On August 23, 1982, my parents, weary from suffering political and religious persecution and living under the looming threat of imprisonment, fled the Socialist Republic of Romania, taking eleven children with them. We must have been an enigma as we noisily boarded the airplane to America; seven rambunctious boys taking advantage of the free-flowing Pepsi and four wiry girls dressed in traditional Romanian attire. My mother actually sold our belongings and purchased the clothes so that we can look our best as we traveled to America. These small acts of dignity even in the most humble of situations defined our humanity.
While I was quite young this experience molded and made me who I am. It was the process of acculturation and assimilation that was the most formative and difficult. It was the learning of a new language, it was the experience of never really fitting in, it was being asked “Where are you from?” It was never having enough, yet sharing what you did. However it was also knowing where I am from and to whom I belong that grounded me and gave me a foundation. My families experience, however socially and economically difficult as it was, is just one story among literally millions which refugees, displaced persons and asylum seekers can tell today. One common thread however is that no one chooses to be a refugee and everyone should have a place to call home.
As shown in the image above, the UNHCR estimates that in 2010 there were 43.7 displaced, refugees or asylum seekers. Global Trends 2011 reports that there was an increase in 800,000 new refugees in just one year. However due to the recent largest repatriation of IDP’s in decades the number has stayed down, despite the increase in new refugees. Worldwide today there are an estimated 42.5 million people who have ended either as refugees (15.2 million), internally displaced (26.4 million) or in the process of seeking asylum (895,000). Victims of violent conflict, food shortages and environmental disasters : each one has a story to tell.
For more details the full report can be found here: http://www.unhcr.org/swf/2011_Global_Trends.swf
The Campaign: My Life as A Refugee
Called ‘MY LIFE AS A REFUGEE’ features various media platforms which according to the website “forces players to face the same life-changing decisions refugees make in a true-to-life quest to try to survive, reach safety, reunite with loved ones and re-start their lives.” the campaign features:
According to the UNHCR Website: After selecting a character, players face a series of tough decisions and chance events in a quest to reach safety, reunite with loved ones and rebuild their lives. The game features three main characters who have been displaced and separated from their families. Months or years of narrative are compressed into five daily episodes. Players are prompted to make decisions along the way in order to reach safety. Each narrative is based on the real-life experiences of millions of refugees fleeing war or persecution.
online giving or advocacy thru events such as the World Refugee Day Umbrella March in Madrid.
I am glad to see such initiatives which use strategic communications and transmedia storytelling to tell the story of those that are often voiceless. I especially like that refugees are given a platform through Youtube to tell their own stories. The aim of the project is to provide an immersive experience to an obviously young audience, one that I hope will be compelled to take action. I hope that UNHCR will be a model for more organizations working in peacebuilding and conflict resolution to invest time, money and energy into such media projects and more importantly I hope that these initiatives would resonate with people today. I see these type of projects actually competing on some level with the many other offerings commercial media has, and that is a good thing. I also hope the app will be available soon on iphone – so I can finally download it!