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What can we do to help?

The sad repetition of wars in the world has made our solidarity with refugees something trivial. Yet, every night on television, we can watch them leaving their destroyed houses and their bombed-out villages, always on the move, trying to find a safe place to wait for the end of the war and maybe, peace. And it is not solidarity that is missing around them; quite the opposite. Numerous people help them as much as possible: donate money, food, shelter, transportation, information or simply company.

However, our exposure to prolonged wars has turned these gestures of solidarity into the “ghost in the machine”. We have been deprived of the exceptionality to fall into the routine of giving and giving without thinking about the reasons for our actions and the reasons behind the wars. Solidarity has given way to humanitarian aid, tackling the  -necessary – immediate needs but leaving a vacuum where our political awareness should be.

Something exceptional happened to me a few days ago. Someone introduced me to this middle-aged man, and when I said I was Chilean, he told me he had been part of a group in solidarity with the Chilean people during the Pinochet dictatorship back in the eighties. He told me that the group gathered outside the US Embassy every Thursday to protest and ask for the release of political prisoners and people who were repressed, imprisoned, tortured, murdered and disappeared by the military regime in Chile. After hugging and thanking him, I told him the critical role that international pressure had played in pressuring Pinochet to call for a referendum that ultimately brought democracy to the country. Then, I looked at him while he smiled dreamingly.

As I looked at him, I asked myself about the political consciousness’s role in the gestures of solidarity and material aid we have for refugees today. What had motivated this man to leave his home and go out and protest on behalf of people who were being murdered and tortured in a dark third-world country? I saw political awareness: he believed that all human beings had the same rights he had as an inhabitant of the first world. In other words, the violation of the human rights of those people concerned him because he was equal to them. So he was to raise his voice for those who couldn’t even speak because they faced the threat of being killed.

Do we have that awareness today when we think about refugees? Do we consider refugees people with the same rights as us? Are we capable of seeing wars as conflicts that compel us to express a political position against the violation of human rights? How many of us leave our comfort zone to demand an end to the death of civilians in wars because they are like us?

I don’t have the answer to these questions, but I am sure of one thing: the answer is not to look the other way while you put your hand in your pocket.

Photo: Sebastian Silva:






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