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What does it mean to be a refugee? - Benedetta Berti and Evelien Borgman


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About 60 million people around the globe have been forced to leave their homes to escape war, violence and persecution. The majority have become Internally Displaced Persons, meaning they fled their homes but are still in their own countries. Others, referred to as refugees, sought shelter outside their own country. But what does that term really mean? Benedetta Berti and Evelien Borgman explain.

Additional Resources for you to Explore

To learn more about global forced displacement, a good place to start is the website of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). This includes plenty of information and resources; including a basic explanation of the Refugee Convention and an annual report on patterns of forced displacement. The website also looks at individual stories, trying to match the statistical data with more personal accounts of displacement. 

To further investigate the challenges faced by those who seek to begin a journey from war to safety, the missing migrants project looks broadly at those—both migrants and refugees—who have died along migratory routes (both at land and at sea). For more detailed information, you can read this report by the International Organization for Migration.

In this TED Talk, Melissa Fleming (UNHCR) tells the story of two refugees and their harrowing journey towards safety. In another important TED Talk (and written article) journalist Anders Fjellberg and photographer Tomm Christiansen remind us of the personal nature of these stories, writing that “everybody has a name, everybody has a story and everybody is someone.” In this interview with Antonio Guterres, the former High Commissioner of UNHCR, Guterres calls for a multilateral turn toward acceptance and respect.

It is important to realize that arriving at the destination and obtaining refugee status does not mean the end of problems. Refugees and IDPs in camps often face difficult conditions, including limited infrastructure, overcrowding, temporary shelter with inadequate insulation/protection from the weather, lack of economic opportunities and/or education. Psychologically, life in a camp can be highly alienating and take a heavy toll.

Refugees living outside of camps also face hurdles including gaining access to health, education and other social services, and finding adequate shelter. Refugees are frequently in need of assistance for rent, and financial considerations can prevent them from finding adequate housing, forcing them to live in substandard accommodations such as abandoned or unfinished buildings or in informal dwellings.  These run the risk of lacking adequate access to water, sanitation, waste management, or electricity and are unfit for the winter season.

Finding a job is often one of the most complex and difficult tasks, even though refugees may have had access to a good education in their home countries or had jobs that require a high level of education.  And even for those refugees that obtain asylum in a country where more socio-economic assistance may be available, the trauma of having to rebuild a life and integrate in a very different context is a major challenge.

At the same time, we should keep in mind that refugees are courageous and strong human beings with their own unique skills and talents and with the ability to make plenty of positive contributions to their host countries. They have a lot to offer to their host societies and their full potential should be embraced. Here you can find a few ways through which you can help and empower refugees in your city or country. 

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Benedetta Berti, Evelien Borgman
  • Script Editor Mia Nacamulli
  • Director Biljana Labović
  • Animation Artist Justine Vuylsteker
  • Composer David Obuchowski, Peter Linder
  • Sound Designer Marcelo Añez
  • Narrator Susan Zimmerman

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