The Forced from Home interactive exhibit, created to offer insight into the plight of international refugees, ran in Old City by Doctors Without Borders Nov. 5 to Nov. 13.
DWB, also known as Medecins sans Frontieres, is a humanitarian organization that offers medical services in war-torn areas, partnering with peacekeeping organizations, notably the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
According to the tour guide, DWB tells the stories of its consenting patients because the organization believes these stories deserve to be heard.
She guided the tour group into a dome that displayed images of helpless people from South Sudan, Honduras, Mexico and Burundi crying out. They have left their families to find a better life and have been severely disappointed.
One mother says she took her family from their home in Burundi to Kenya, believing a brighter reality awaited when all that awaited her family was sickness. She speaks of a better future as her malnourished children play in the mud.
The mood was solemn as the tour moved on from the tent. The attendees are meant to be experiencing what refugees must go through, so they must be on the move.
“You have 60 seconds to pick five things from the back of that wall! These are the only five things you can carry with you on your trip,” the tour guide shouted.
The group sat in a raft, clinging on tightly to placards of water and cut out clothes. The tour guide began to speak about the diverse world of refugees.
Sixty-five million people are fleeing their country or are displaced; they are the ones people think of when they think of refugees. An extremely small percentage of these people will make it to Europe or North America, and many of them will never be granted refugee status or asylum.
Anyone can seek asylum in a foreign country if they have a reason to believe they are in danger and will be persecuted if returned to their home country. If a person is granted the right to seek asylum, their status as an asylum seeker protects them from being deported to their home country. If someone is granted refugee status in a country they are seeking asylum in, they can stay in that country and try to build a new life. Migrants, those who usually come without passports or identification and are looking to resettle for economic reasons, are not covered under the 1951 Refugee Convention.
“It is assumed that because migrants don’t have passports and because they are seeking to leave their country, they must be running from the law,” the tour guide said.
The higher up you go on the food chain, from seeking asylum, to being granted asylum, to becoming a refugee, the lower percentage of people you will have with you. Too many people out of those 65 million get separated from their families, never make it to their destination or die on the way.
DWB targets major medical concerns in developing countries, such as unsafe water, bad hygiene, malnutrition, exposure to the elements and lack of access to medical care.
After stepping off the raft, the tour group received a look at what a day in the life would look like for someone resettled at a camp.
Children often waste precious energy going to collect the minimum amount of water for their families and drink it even if it is unclean. This commonly leads to cholera, a leading cause of death in refugee populations. Cholera treatment centers are effective if the patient arrives on time, the tour group was told as they looked at a typical DWB camp setup.
DWB sets up latrines and waste incinerators to prevent the spread of disease through waste, vaccinates people for easily preventable diseases, and provides long-term intensive feeding programs to help the malnourished get back on their feet. DWB expands care beyond the basics to surgical and specialized care as well as making sure the refugees they are with receive clean water every day.
As the visitors on the tour dropped off the final item they had with them on their trip, everyone had substantial food for thought.
After they toured a makeshift tent that could fit a twin-size bed but will fit up to 20 people on a day to day basis, the visitors were free to go to their respective homes.
“We rescued a ship that could safely fit about 40. It had 140. Twenty people were dead in the bottom — they had died from the fumes in the boat,” the tour guide shared.
Each visitor can walk away from the DWB exhibit knowing that DWB doctors, nurses and officers are out in the field every day.
The exhibit is informative, touching and eye-opening, providing a startling glimpse of how much desolation DWB workers see.
They are a bridge between our world and the world refugees and the displaced live in, giving us perspective on the lives refugees lead and how drastically different they are from our own. The displaced are a world away.