Law Student, McGill University
The global refugee crisis we are witnessing today is a present and unavoidable daily struggle for millions of people around the world desperately seeking peace and security. According to the UN Refugee Agency, an unprecedented number of people — an estimated 65.3 million — have been forcibly displaced as a result of war, persecution, and political upheaval. 21.3 million of those uprooted have fled their countries as refugees, over half of them children.
This incredibly challenging situation has been exacerbated by attempts to impose bans and restrictions that have stifled family re-unification efforts and left already vulnerable people in an even more precarious position. Meanwhile, the politics of demonization and fear are only increasing the social isolation refugees are experiencing.
Fortunately, counter movements have rallied together across nations in support of connectedness and inclusion. Already there are a number of examples of initiatives, at both the local and international level, aimed at creating intercultural understanding, facilitating open and inclusive dialogue, and challenging the current crisis of prejudice and exclusion. And oftentimes, youth are leading the way.
For example, the WHO WHAT WHERE photography exhibition, led by young anthropology students, celebrates diversity of cultures across the world through the sharing of encounters the photographers have had in their global travels. The central theme of the photographs is the importance of fostering a sense of human connectedness, as they invite the viewer to engage and identify with a culture foreign to their own and share something with a person regardless of perceived barriers, such as language or religion. This initiative exemplifies the power of art and creativity to build bridges and foster belonging.
In another example, a McGill University law student spearheaded what became a nationwide effort involving 22 Canadian law schools to challenge Canada’s potential complicity in implementing the U.S. travel ban and to seek legal avenues to help refugees. The McGill ‘Research-a-thon” captures the impact of one individual’s determination and the power of people to unite in support of every human being’s right to live in safety and security, and to belong. While the travel ban has been temporarily suspended by U.S. courts, rumours of a second executive order restricting travel and refugee intake require ongoing vigilance.
On a more global scale, the Women’s March on January 21st highlighted the power of connectedness and inclusion as millions united in their fight for social justice and equality for all. These protests reflected the power of resiliency as millions of every creed, nationality, religion, age and gender marched in solidarity to uphold human rights and the dignity of all people. Following the March, organizers launched a follow-up campaign called “10 Actions for the First 100 Days” to maintain momentum and ensure that the voices of participants continue to be heard.
Despite the challenges we face today, initiatives like these remind us of what is possible when people act in solidarity and speak truth to power. Further, these diverse local, national and global initiatives embody our collective strength to persevere and continue working to build social connectedness in the face of hatred and exclusion.
Because diversity always trumps division.