What I know about refugees

from what I've seen and read (but I'm talking longer term refugees than days or weeks--and refugees whose misery is caused by other people)

They have seen humans at their worst (and best) Don't say you understand because you don't, unless you're a refugee yourself. Even soldiers who've lived through wars don't know, unless they were abandoned by their command and country, and lost their power. It's the difference between seeing a body on television and holding a body in your arms. I don't comprehend their experience but every now and then I catch a glimpse and it's beyond bearing to know what people can do or be. And some of these people have seen it inside themselves. The horror is worse than death, a woman once told me.

They soon tire of expressing gratitude to strangers who have homes, families, everything when they have nothing left. They're traumatized, angry and some might still be operating on survival level. They know civilization is a thin veneer.

Be polite, but on the other hand, if you're in charge, don't let them continue the survival mode once they're back in society. Make rules clear and be firm, consistent--and above all, do what you say you will, when you say you'll do it. They usually have good reason not to trust anyone in authority or who says they're "there to help". If they see that the rules aren't being enforced or that promises aren't kept, and their survival is threatened, they'll go from passive (that blank face) to survival state quickly. They might push anyone out of the way to get what they need. (I doubt the flood refugees will be in this state. I'm talking about people who've operated in refugee conditions for years.)

Long-time refugees often don't want to be asked their story or details of their past--some have been asked too often, some aren't ready to speak. They might not even want to hear "sorry". . . but that's a real individual matter. Some need to hear that. And some need to tell their story. If they decide to tell you, listen. It's a privilege.


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