By Nondo Nobel Bwami
Asylum Access Tanzania Refugee Fellow, Nondo Nobel Bwami, delivered the following speech on June 30, 2012 to commemorate World Refugee Day.
I am a refugee among others and I am proud of this status. Although a refugee is considered less of a person by many people simply because of his refugee status; despite the fact that a refugee is misunderstood almost everywhere and in every corner of the world; despite the fact that a refugee is seen as someone who is out of his mind and very often confused; I am still proud to be a refugee. Despite the fact that a refugee may be deprived of his homeland, shelter and access to many other things necessary to live as a human being, still there is meaning in saying “it takes courage to be a refugee.”
There is courage in being a refugee as far as hope and perseverance are concerned.
There is no shame in being a refugee. One finds himself walking suddenly in refugee status due to extraordinary circumstances out of his control. Circumstances like these are, unfortunately, always happening in life. But after awhile they disappear and a person is free to rebuild self-sufficiency and lost hope. Being a refugee is not a burden. It is a challenge to rise up, to rebuild my life and contribute to the betterment of society.
A refugee is a normal person and, like anyone else, he is capable of extraordinary things provided that he is only given a chance. As UNHCR explains:
“Refugees are ordinary people, too, except that through no fault of their own, they find themselves in extraordinary circumstances. As such, they are often required to dig deep into their own inner sources of strength… It takes courage to be a refugee. Courage not to give up hope and to make the most of the hand that has been dealt. Courage to start a new life against daunting odds, eventually to become contributing and enriching members of society once more.”
It is of utmost importance to understand this unique courage as explained by UNHCR.
My own courage is a result of many things—my long travel toward attaining refugee status, my refugee life experience, and the many great lessons drawn from my life as a refugee. These things have strengthened me and helped me to develop the skills and abilities that I have today; things such as working hard, working well under pressure, learning quickly, adapting to new environments, and understanding different cultures so that I may not lose out on any available opportunity in life.
Yes, it really takes courage to be a refugee.
Clues to the source of this courage are found in the long journey I made together with my family toward Tanzania when leaving our DRC as the country was falling into an atrocious civil war. To this day, no one knows when this war will end. It takes courage to be a refugee; to accept this status.
Think of the thousands of people in the world who took up and are still taking up their things. They are walking on roads, in forests, risking their lives crossing deep lakes, rivers, seas and oceans in order to flee the sad events occurring in their own countries for the sake of rescuing their loved ones from being persecuted. Think of the thousands of people in the world who died and are still dying of hunger, slaughter, and illness. Think of the others who suffer disabilities, either physical or mental, due to wars that are happening in their countries. Think of the thousands of refugees in the world who are scattered and separated from their families without hope to find or meet them again.
Yes, it takes courage to be a refugee: courage to endure such circumstances; courage to endure the homesickness; courage to tolerate persecution and torture; courage to achieve one’s plans; courage to learn new cultures and new languages; courage to adapt to turbulent environments.
It really takes courage to be a refugee: courage to stay in refugee camps, courage to study in the camps under trees and tents; courage to be considered an unlawful urban refugee; courage to be born and to grow up in a foreign country.
It takes courage to be a refugee: courage to know there are only three possible lasting solutions to your situation (repatriation, local integration, or resettlement), all of which are very difficult to realize.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, has said:
“While every refugee’s story is different and their anguish personal, they all share a common thread of uncommon courage – the courage not only to survive, but to persevere and rebuild their shattered lives.”
These kinds of statements are indeed encouraging. They make us feel proud of our “uncommon courage.” And they give us encouragement to continue having the courage to rebuild our lives full of hope.
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