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World Refugee Day 2021

[T/W: Contains language of graphic nature]

In observance of World Refugee Day, we have launched a care package fundraiser to provide essential aid to migrants residing in North Western Turkey. To donate, click here.

As the world gathers across social media platforms to bring awareness and promote compassion for refugees, I take a moment to reflect upon how compassion-or a lack thereof- has affected those I love, and those from greater communities facing plights that the international community continues to ignore. At the core of World Refugee Day, we must turn our attention to the international governments that bear the sole responsibility for the conditions leading to forced migration.

At Afghans Empowered, we use the term “refugee”to describe the experiences of our families and communities as a historical reality in a specific time in their lives. It does not define them as people, despite it’s crucial role in defining the reality of their conditions. My dad enjoys Sunday mornings in our backyard cabana, listening to his favorite ghazal artist. Sundays are his “gardening days”; he tends to the fruit trees, walks back and forth, “looking busy” as my mom and I always tease, but nevertheless, enjoying his hobby.My mom spends her evening after a long, hard-worked day, watching snippets of her favorite Indian soap opera.

You wouldn’t know for a minute that my dad walked over three days on foot, hiking perilous trails and avoiding mine fields, feet swollen and blistered in his tattered shoes as he walked towards the Pakistani border. Or that my mom used to have a punk rock/grunge clothing phase that she had to give up in exchange for a chaudhari, before running away in the dead of night as looters took her family home while Kabul was plagued with indiscriminate militia fighting. You wouldn’t NEED to know these things, to know who my parents are: loving, kind, hardworking, and happily bored at times. My parents were refugees, and it’s their choice only to take that experience and reflect on it however they want. They taught us, their children, that being a refugee has simply been a disruption in their lives. Though this disruption took years to remedy, who my parents are is part of who they always were in their homeland.

That’s exactly why we are in such desperate need of compassion, and above all, accountability. Governments want to marginalize those seeking refuge, and bar individuals- people I imagine to look like my loving parents from seeking opportunities to resume a sense of normalcy that political, social/economic, and environmental instability has disrupted. How could anyone ever want to hate on my easy-going dad who maybe plays a little too much ghazal out loud on the weekends? And what is a refugee supposed to look like, anyways? Probably not my Indian soap opera -watching mom, right? Refugees are not identities that countries can just use to make assumptions about the people who migrate. We can be compassionate to their temporary conditions and issues without boxing them up by labels that are used to demean agency and dignity. But that simply is not how governments value those who seek refuge. Take for example, the migration “crisis” in Europe and Turkey.

1.3 million people sought asylum in the EU in 2015 and the majority were of SWANA origin. It's now been 3 years since the EU declared the "crisis" was over. They lied. People have continued to flee dangerous conditions all over the world. Those people are our parents, family, friends, neighbors, and loved ones. They became refugees because they had to.

Unfortunately, even safe arrival to the EU did not guarantee an end to the migrants’ struggles - new laws helped EU member states circumvent international law, leaving many refugees unaccounted for, and left in inhumane conditions. International standards of human rights include the Non-Refoulement law, which prohibits nations from sending refugees to unsafe places. Agreements such as the Dublin regulation, however, would go against this and allow EU member states to forcibly return refugees to the first state they arrived in. The EU-Turkey Deal would be the first to enact this. Overwhelmingly, migrants passed through Turkey, leaving them on the shores of Greece. In an attempt to deal with the backlog of refugee and asylum applicants in Greece, the EU-Turkey deal allowed refugees arriving in Greece to be returned to Turkey. In exchange, Turkey would receive 3 billion euros and, potentially, membership to the EU. Similarly, Libya was granted a deal to keep migrants from leaving its waters and inadequate conditions for $245 million.

What happened? Greece left many asylum applications unprocessed, and many refugees are waiting in detainment centers to return to Turkey. Refugees stuck in Turkey and Libya remain in detainment centers as well, where they face gross deprivation of their human rights while they are left in limbo. They are subject to torture, extortion, and even trafficking. In addition to these violations of human rights, the EU continues to support militarized borders, going against a previous agreement that specifically allowed free movement between borders. Refugees are being kicked out of cities and into uninhabitable areas that don’t provide them access to basic services. These actions by European governments mark another aspect of being stuck while migrants hope for transit countries to permit flow of movement.

Through these agreements, the EU’s proposed solutions to this crisis actually exacerbates hardship and poses extreme dangers to refugees. Increased border security and border closures fostered an image of refugees as an existential threat. What happens when policy and public opinion coincide to deprive people of their humanity?

As we publish this post in recognition of World Refugee Day, Greek contractors continue to destroy campsites on the Greek islands in exchange for concrete structures that will become new detention centers. Greece has made it very clear: it does not intend to allow anyone to seek refuge- a blatant violation of EU Law and International Law. Frontex and Greek coastguard continue to hawkishly patrol territorial waters, prepared to capsize any dingy ship or raft they find that is carrying terrified migrants. The Turkish shores are lined up with families awaiting an opportunity to make the next leg in their journey. But with a near-total shutdown of Greece’s asylum system on the Greek islands, these migrants will be met with disappointment as Greek officials unlawfully detain them and force their return back to Turkey. These “push backs” are rising in numbers, and Turkey’s intentional refusal to recognize the UN Charter of 1951 by official recognition of SWANA refugees, is worsening the living conditions of these refugees.

That’s why this year, we are working with Full Potential, Josoor International Solidarity, and Middle East Matters, to provide essential care packages and aid to the rising number of migrants and families stuck in North Western Turkey. All proceeds will go directly to supplies. We hope to use our fundraiser as an educational opportunity to advocate for the representation of refugees and migrants who continue to be affected by the policies and tactics used by European countries, and Turkey.

Consider making a donation today to support those in need. Visit our GoFundMe to donate:


Cover image designed by Kismet Craft (Instagram: @Kismetcraft)

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