World Refugee Day 2014

World Refugee Day, held on June 20th of every year, is a time when the resilience, determination and strength of the millions of displaced individuals in the world is honoured. Whilst we believe that the agency of refugees should be emphasised every day of the year, we would nevertheless like to use this opportunity to honour some of the individuals we met during our time in Jordan.

There is often a misconception of refugees as victims who passively suffer from the challenges of life in displacement. The difficult circumstances that refugees face in displacement can certainly not be denied, but there is more to the life of a refugee than despair and powerlessness. In Jordan, we met some Syrian refugees whose strength and determination inspire us all. In the Zaatari refugee camp, we were especially impressed by the spirit of innovation that Syrian refugees are often associated with. Flourishing local initiatives, such as family-run, community supermarkets, are demonstrations of the strength of this population, who have decided to take steps towards overcoming the challenges of displacement, maintaining their dignity and utilizing their agency amidst the harsh environment that was forced upon them.

Some encounters with inspiring individuals are clear examples of this sense of resiliency. For instance, during our time in Zaatari, a thirteen-year-old timid curiosity of our presence allowed us to share special moments together. He first approached us asking what we were doing there, before warmly taking us to his family and his new home. He even operated the camera several times. Throughout our conversations with him, we were astounded by the manner in which he took on the relentless challenges and changes occurring in his and his family’s life. His inspiring energy also rubbed off on those around him, establishing with his family a different level of happiness and togetherness (or ‘aassabiyya’, in the words of Ibn Khaldoun) in circumstances that are often normalised, but never normal as such. In the days we spent with him and the days we have spoken to him since, a sense of companionship and mutual friendship has grown between us. Sharing experiences with him, one of the millions of children displaced around the world, is humbling. Perhaps there is some merit in research that deconstructs the concept of an ‘idealised childhood’. Spending time with him, it felt like we were standing on the shoulder of a giant; a young, ‘child’ giant. Anything said about Louay, or any other person for that matter, would not do justice to who he is. On this World Refugee Day, learning from him and of him is the least we can do. As a project, we are committed to challenging misconceptions surrounding refugees, and this understanding and appreciation of the complexity of the life of a school-aged refugee child is the premise from which the following phases of the project is based upon.

Finally, on this World Refugee Day, it is very meaningful for our team to honour the strength and resiliency of Syrian refugees, but we would also like to mention and acknowledge the millions of individuals living in displacement in places such as South Sudan, Central African Republic, Palestine, Tibet, Western Sahara and many other contexts. Now, and always, we offer our thoughts and empathy.