For the past year and a half, I have worked with resettled refugee youth both in Durham through the Citizenship Lab and at home in Chicago. This micro level work includes helping them improve their English skills, adjust to the American school system, and cope with obstacles that they face. After working for days, weeks, and months with these young people, I have gotten to know them very well. Hearing their stories, including their joys and their sorrows, allows me to empathize with them. I consider them friends as much as I do mentees.
I knew when coming to Dublin that I wanted to work at a placement whose remit extended beyond individual work to the population level in order to gain a new perspective on the process of resettling refugees. My experience this summer has been just that. For the past three and a half weeks I have been working in the Health Service Executive’s National Office for Social Inclusion, a branch of the Irish health service that supports equal access to healthcare for all people of vulnerable populations, including asylum seekers and refugees. I have had the opportunity to analyze the healthcare inequities that asylum seekers and refugees face in Ireland through conducting research, writing reports, and helping to develop models and policies. Many of the issues stem from language barriers, poor knowledge in regards to how the Irish healthcare system works, and lack of intercultural training for healthcare professionals. These factors have detrimental effects on refugees’ health and transition to life in Ireland.
Working at the macro level this summer has taught me the importance of individual work with refugees on reports and policies: it reminds you of the humanity behind the word “refugee.” Over the past few weeks, I have had very little contact with the refugees whom are actually living in the Direct Provision Centres and Emergency Reception and Orientation Centres (EROCs) and whom these policies affect. Without my experiences working with refugee youth, I may have gotten hung up over budgets and bureaucracy. Instead, I am reminded of the stories I have heard and the relationships that I have developed with these individuals back in the United States. This informs my thoughts and actions each day at work. I have seen this same spirit in my supervisor, Diane. She spends many of her days out of the office, visiting the EROCs and attending meetings with government officials. Diane values these moments more than she does her own personal time, as she spends her weekends tirelessly catching up on the office work she misses during the week. She understands the importance of knowing her audience, the people that her policies affect. These interactions provide a sense of passion and urgency to her projects that so deeply reflect the humanity of refugees. It shapes the National Office for Social Inclusion’s work in a dramatic way.
When policies such as the U.S. border separation policy dehumanize individuals in the cruelest of ways possible, the policy maker must not know these individuals. Because if they did know them, they would not have the ability to create and enforce such heartless laws. Rather than making the most convenient or financially beneficial choice, politicians need to make respecting humanity the first priority in all decisions. The first step towards this is getting to know their audience.