Boston College students were given the opportunity to learn about the realities of life in refugee camps and gain the knowledge to become advocates for change at an event Wednesday entitled “Walk a Mile in My Shoes.” The event was organized by a variety of on-campus organizations, such as BC charity: water, GlobeMed, and BC Model United Nations, as well as BC’s Center for Human Rights and International Justice (CHRIJ).
A number of stations were set up along the walls of the room, each offering insight into different facets of in different camps.
Participants in the simulation first approached a table that focused on health and sanitation conditions. Speakers discussed how access to proper care and sanitation can be improved through initiatives organized by governments and non-profits. In Syria, for example, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency launched 3RP, a program dedicated to strengthening the capacity of public health infrastructure and providing support for extremely vulnerable populations.
The program is not without fault, often failing to fully address unsanitary conditions and health issues in camps. In Zaatari Camp in Jordan, there is only one toilet for every 50 Syrian refugees. Making matters worse, anemia, diabetes, hypertension, and mental illnesses are major health concerns that are not being fully addressed.
“A lot of refugees end up with mental health conditions because they lack accessibility to proper medication,” Michaela Simoneau, MCAS ’18, said.
Following this experience, event-goers headed to another station to learn about food security in camps. For refugees and displaced persons who are fully dependent on food assistance, their meals come from organizations like the World Food Programme. This group distributes food baskets, which contain essential components of a nutritious meal, such as wheat, vegetable oil, and iodized salt. But living off of a diet like this will only provide 1,300 calories per day, far less than what people need to stay healthy, according to Sam Harmon, MCAS ’21.
“Eating this for months will probably drive most people insane,” Harmon said.
Students and faculty then learned about water consumption in camps, and how lacking potable water can have drastic consequences. By the standards of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, individual refugees are allocated five household water containers and 20 liters of water per person per day. However, these guidelines do not always hold true.
Refugees have to walk up to 14 miles a day to gather drinking water, according to Natasha Boateng-Wilson, MCAS ’19. But their water sources, ranging from rivers to wells, are not always clean and are sometimes shared with animals in the area. This water can contain harmful bacteria, which leads to waterborne diseases, as a study at the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya found.
Back in the camps, families are oftentimes allocated only one gallon of water per day, an amount too small to survive on.
“This is a huge burden to worry about on top of the other concerns of being a refugee,” Boateng-Wilson said.
After this portion of the event, the participants learned about the lack of proper education that plagues many camps. For example, one school book is sometimes used to teach as many as 200 people, presenting numerous complications, Alfonso Henderson, GSSW ’19, said.
Henderson further discussed why individuals become displaced or refugees in the first place. Some of the causes include human rights violations, poverty, and civil wars.
For many refugees and displaced persons, their stay in the camps can become prolonged indefinitely. On a list compiling data from 14 different countries, these individuals were found to stay an average of 17 years. As Anas Beshir, MCAS ’20, explained, countries affected by civil wars, natural disasters, or health epidemics are often not inhabitable for many years.
Around the world, the conditions that cause increases in the number of refugees are worsening, according to Timothy Karcz, the assistant director of CHRIJ. Germany and other countries have generously taken in refugees in this time of need, Karcz noted, while the U.S. has done less for them than it had in the past due to a fear of immigrants.
“Since 1975, the U.S. has resettled 3 million people,” Karcz said. “Of that, only two have been brought up on terrorism charges.”
Featured Image by Cole Dady / News Editor