All tagged refugees

If days are where we live our lives then stories are where we remember them.  Whether fact or fiction, the telling of tales is one of the most compelling ways to chart journeys and worlds discovered by people Other than ourselves. As children, we relish fairy tales that introduce us to the concept of morality and allow us to invest hope and expectation in imaginary people and their adventures. 

Nearly all the families who belong to the Ugandan Asian Diaspora have either a collection of photographs or a series of tired-looking but carefully-preserved albums in which their past is visually documented. Photographs were one of the few things that were not confiscated by Idi Amin’s military as the Asian community reluctantly and with heavy hearts checked out through Entebbe Airport in October 1972.

How many of us really think about the different components of our being — our identity as determined by our own actions and beliefs, and who we are as perceived by others? For most of us, it isn't until we face a struggle in life — for the right to justice, equality, political representation, even the basic struggle as experienced by all of us at one time or another to belong — that our identity starts to matter in dramatic ways.

“It was the toughest moment of my life.  I was pregnant against my wishes as a result of rape, going to an unknown country, with no support. But I had to face reality.” Speaking from the coffee shack she runs in Nairobi, Jenet recalls the day she stood alone on the border of Ethiopia and Kenya, aged 17.  It was just one critical moment on a traumatic journey that would see her subjected to multiple sexual assaults over the next four years.

I recently returned from a trip to Geneva, the human rights headquarters of the world, you might say.  Only what struck me from the people I met, the stories I heard and the places I visited was not the undeniable force of activism and political will that characterises the city, but the sad sense that for the people it represents, the human rights movement is losing its grip.

Is there one word that sums up what the world needs more of?  That’s the question posed by the UN for this year’s World Humanitarian Day, when it pledges to “turn those words into currency”.  Change, peace, hope and teamwork (the latter as favoured by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon) spring instinctively to mind.  Along with justice and equality, they are among the trending suggestions in the run up to 19 August.  But just how realistic is it to think that words have the power to accelerate global change to the extent that is needed? 

Memories are the defining feature of human identity.  They underlie the decisions that help determine our future, they colour our reflections on the past, and they characterise our life stories.  But our headspace is notoriously fluid, susceptible to damage, change and loss.   The stories that we weave together from what we can recall, while an inimitable gateway into our personalities, are not entirely true.  

On 5 August 1972 – informed by the census that had been carried out the previous year – Idi Amin announced that he had a dream in which it was revealed to him that some 60,000 Asians who were not classed as Ugandans (defined as such by a convoluted arbitrary lineage) must leave Uganda, declaring, “Asians came to Uganda to build the railway, the railway is finished, they must leave now”.