Refugee News, Powerlessness and Perspective

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Though not many people in the United States are hearing about it (what's new about that?), a refugee situation has become a central focus of Bangladeshi politics in the last few months.

Myanmar (formerly Burma) has just gone through a period of heavy civil unrest and war, sending persecuted Muslim refugees streaming into neighboring countries including Bangladesh. You can read more about the conflict here. As a result, Bangladesh (which already has a strained system due to its own large population) has to figure out what to do with these people who can integrate themselves into the local culture - they know Bengali, they look like the Chittagong Hill Tract peoples, and they pretend that they are Bangladeshi citizens so that they can leave the refugee camps and work. Which, in some ways, is a positive thing for the refugees. However, the UN will not recognize the need to send funds for aiding these refugees if there isn't a certain number remaining in the camps - so the government is in a fix. Do we keep them here? Do we send them elsewhere? There's really no way to control this floating population or get them aid. A sticky situation all around.

Not to draw the focus too far away from the struggle itself, but it makes me think about all the media coverage that we get about problems going on around the country and the globe. Although we can hear and know about suffering, we often look upon it as a problem that sits at a distance from us since it does not affect us directly. Some choose to ignore it. Others feel very concerned, but unable to help. Overall, the feeling invoked is a sense of powerlessness and an attempt to relate the situation to our own lives. I know that was how I felt when I first heard and read about the refugee issue while here - that it is something to be looked at through the lens of analysis.

And then I thought: this is sometimes how I view struggles that I have more control over. Like cuts to women's healthcare across the US. Or supporting the Robin Hood Tax. Is it apathy? Is it the telescopic lens of the media? There are no concrete conclusions. All we can take away is that we must encourage participation in whatever small way is possible and try to overcome our own powerlessness in response to the systems at large.

I send my prayers to the Myanmar refugees and hope that they get the aid and assistance they need.