I’m probably not the best person to tell this story. I am no historian and some think, I’m no writer. But I can point out how the international community separates and defines refugees since WWII. I learned about this first hand in an unexpected way. Perhaps a story worth telling. For me, it started off as just needing a job.
In 1990, I had just finished my BFA at the University of Cincinnati. My husband had finished up his teaching position there. He has a Ph.D. and was an Assistant Professor of English and Philosophy. Ohhhh my, the lovely world of academia. They seem to hire professors for a year or two with no intention of giving them tenure. So forced to move again, this time across the entire country, here, to the San Francisco. The Bay Area is an expensive place to live. But rich in cultural diversity like I had never experienced before. My husband had secured another teaching position at a little college down the peninsular, in Atherton. It was hardly enough money to pay our rent, so I needed to find a job, and, oh snap, forgot to mention, I’m an Artist, too.
I use to say things like, “I’m a refugee, forced to move in my own country.” Looking for a job to raise my three kids, wanting so much to put down roots, find home again. But in those years, I was a naive young woman who had no idea what a refugee was. What these people really had to deal with. I think you would of call me the arrogant American. I was not mindful of my words. I threw the word refugee around, not understanding the tears that made them.
United Nations Refugee Agency defines a refugee as “someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence.” But there are other situations that are categorized as a refugee. The Internationally Displaced Person is a person who has been forced to flee his or her home for the same reason as a refugee. What is different is these people remains in his or her own country. They do not cross an international border. Another category is the asylum-seeker. This is when people flee their own country to seek sanctuary in another country. They apply for asylum, the right to be recognized as a refugee and receive legal protection and help. There are many other situations that a person or people become refugees. I hope to make some of those distinctions here.
Many people confuse “refugee” with economic “migrants”. An economic migrant leaves a country voluntarily to seek a better life. Should he or she decide to return home, they would continue to receive the protection of the government there. Refugees flee because of the threat of persecution. They cannot return safely to their homes.
…. More to come later.
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Sources: UN Refugee Agency.