There was a long line for the bathroom on my flight from Hong Kong to Los Angeles. I feel like this is a flagrant disregard of rules. They make it very clear at the beginning of the flight that no one should congregate in the galley. But a line inevitably forms and if I don't join the line then I'd never go to the toilet.
So, I was standing in line - waiting for the flight attendant to reprimand me.
The man behind me, also a rule breaker, asks where I was going and where I had been. He was from Bangladesh. “What do you do,” he asked? I told him about Medical Teams International and our work with the Rohingya in Bangladesh. “Oh yeah, the government doesn’t want the Rohingya in Bangladesh." I bit the inside of my cheek, unsure where this guy stood on the issue. My mouth had that already-been-traveling-12-hours feel. "So how is it,” he asked? I don't know how to answer that question in this line. I responded, Well over 600,000 have crossed the border. “Wow that many?” My eyes were tired. I felt myself getting annoyed that he didn't know about the crisis happening in his country. I decided to be blunt. Yes, because they’re being killed. “Oh well we don’t want them to be killed...” His tone implied what so many convey in the conversation about refugees.
"We don’t want them to be killed, but we don’t want them to be our problem."
The stall opened and I locked myself inside, happy for the exchange to be over. If I couldn't make him understand, how would I be able to make people at home understand?
I thought about my conversation with Zahir, one of Medical Teams' Community Health Workers. "My father keeps thinking about a time when we will go back.” Zahir was a student when his family fled just a month ago. Others I met in the camps were teachers, students, NGO workers, farmers. They wanted to go home. Home where villages were destroyed, people murdered, atrocities occurred that seem too deep to type. They want to get back to their work.
I left Bangladesh knowing the camp was full of capable humans who have been done a grave injustice. I also left with the recognition that as a society we turn that injustice on them - we blame them for the added burden. "We don't want them to be killed, but we have to look out for ourselves, for our resources." I struggle to see any glimmer of humanity in that mindset.
I have been in this field for six years and every time I return home from a trip I remind myself to give people grace. "They haven't experienced what I have. I can't hold them to a level of accountability for what they have not seen." Returning home this time, I don't feel that way. I know this crisis is difficult to comprehend – I stood in a sea of tents and still struggled to comprehend. But, this difficulty cannot be met with apathy.
A quote from Max Lucado keeps playing in my head, "Had you been a German Christian during WW2, would you have taken a stand against Hitler? Had you lived in the south during the civil rights conflict, would you have taken a stand against racism? When your grandchildren discover you lived during a day in which 1.75 billion people were poor and 1 billion were hungry, how will they judge your response?"
The Rohingya are now the largest group of stateless people in the world, living in the largest refugee camp in the world.
It is such an overwhelming crisis. So what can you do? You can educate yourself and others on this crisis. I'm happy to send you articles and information if you'd like. But, if I'm being honest and bold you can't stop there. If you want to make a difference you should give. 622,000 Rohingya have crossed into Bangladesh since August 25. Many came with nothing. That means an entire city was started from scratch and ongoing essentials (like food, clean water, and medical care) need to be provided. Your money can meet those needs. So find somewhere to give (whether my organization, Medical Teams International, or somewhere else - I can give recommendations). Whatever you do, do not do nothing.