Episode Transcript

Kasia Souchen :  00:01 Hello and welcome to the first episode of 15 minutes to change the world where in 15 minutes you can learn more about the world and how you can help change it. My name is Kasia Souchen and I have the privilege of working at CARE Canada and hosting this podcast, CARE fights poverty by empowering women and girls around the world in more than 94 countries. Today's episode takes a deeper look at refugees.

You have heard and seen terrible headlines and images in the news and online Syria, Yemen, Myanmar Democratic Republic of Congo. Today, there are more than 65 million refugees and displaced people around the world. Half of them are children. Those numbers, those images, those stories can be overwhelming, hard to process, and seem so far away in another world completely. Our guest today will help you better understand some of these very complex situations and equip you with ways you can help. She is Maxime Michel, the leader of CARE's humanitarian team. Welcome Maxime to the podcast.

Maxime Michel: 01:36 Thanks so much for having me. Happy to be here.

Kasia Souchen : 01:39 Let's start with something really straightforward but I think tends to be maybe confusing or misunderstood and quite simply, can you tell us what is the definition of a refugee?

Maxime Michel: 01:49 Sure. So a refugee is someone that is fleeing war, persecution or natural disaster, and they've had to leave their countries. So the key part in the definition is that they've crossed a border, um, and that makes them different from another term that we often hear, which is IDPs, internally displaced persons. So they're often in a very similar situation to refugees with the difference being that they've been displaced within their own country. So that might be a region that they're, they don't come from that might be thousands of kilometers away, um, but they haven't crossed a border. So that's the two groups that we often work with are refugees and IDPs.

Kasia Souchen : 02:26 What does it really mean to be a refugee?

Maxime Michel: 02:29 I think the key point to note about refugees and IDPs is that they can't go home, wherever that home might be. They can't go back because there's war because there's conflict or because there's been a natural disaster. Um often, there isn't a home for them to go back to in the first place and that's the wish that we hear from a lot of them is that they wish they could just go home.

Kasia Souchen : 02:51  Can you give a little bit more of a description of, of a refugee and maybe some of the misconceptions that might exist.

Maxime Michel: 02:57 Sure. So I think often when we, the word refugee, everyone thinks of refugee camps and the reality is that today that's, that looks much different. So we have refugees that are in urban settings so that are living in cities and so they might be your neighbor, they could be living anywhere across the world. Um, and we do still have some refugees that are living in camps. Um, there are some camps though that you wouldn't know that they're camps, because they look like villages, they look like cities. Um, they can look very different where we are in the world. Um, another piece that I think is often a misconception is that developed countries are hosting so many refugees. So some people are often concerns about the targets that we have.

For example, when Canada had announced that we were taking in 25,000 Syrian refugees, um, people are often worried at our absorption capacity within the country. What we sometimes forget is that a lot of refugees today, the vast majority of them are actually living in developing countries and often neighboring countries who where, these conflicts are happening. Um, if we think of Lebanon, for example, they've got more than a million Syrian refugees living there. So, um, it's often in comparable to the numbers that we think we're hosting here in terms of, of that burden. Um, but yeah, I think the key part is really that that refugees are living wherever they're living around the world and that those conditions can be very different depending on the country that they've been able to escape to.

Kasia Souchen : 04:22 Right. And that it could be someone on the bus next to you.

Maxime Michel: 04:25 Absolutely. Exactly. Exactly. And more and more of these, these are these urban crisis that we see where more refugees are living within cities and, and it's hard uh, to find them and to support them sometimes because they're just part of the general population.

Kasia Souchen : 04:42 And what are one or two issues or emergencies or crises that tend to keep you up at night these days?

Maxime Michel: 04:50 As I work on the humanitarian side? Um, there are so many crises that keep me up at night. I think we've, we're in a level of unprecedented humanitarian crisis around the world right now. Um, one in particular, uh, I just came back last month. I was in Bangladesh and in Bangladesh there are around 700,000 refugees that have come from Myanmar, uh, to seek shelter in Bangladesh. And the situation in the camps in Bangladesh is just incredible. There are so many people in such a small space. 700,00 people came in a matter of weeks. They crossed a river, they went over hills. They really just made their way to safety and set up wherever they could. And that this means that there's just people everywhere. The homes are set up quite closely to one another. There's not a lot of space for people to enjoy any kind of privacy. And the thing I'm most worried about is the monsoon season. So every year there are significant rains for several months and these have just started this month and a few days ago we saw that hundreds of homes were destroyed by the rains and this is just the beginning of that season. And so it's, it's impossible not to think about every day.

Kasia Souchen : 06:06 And is there a second example you would think of?

Maxime Michel: 06:08 So there's another crisis that I think about a lot every day and that's the situation in Uganda. So in Uganda they've opened their doors and they're hosting over a million refugees from South Sudan who have fled, just atrocious violence there. Um, the approach in Uganda is really interesting because they have opted not to create camps and instead to really give people land and create new villages, new cities where people are really able to work and able to rebuild their lives because for now there's no hope of peace in South Sudan for anyone to go home too, even though that's what everyone would like to do. Um, and so I was in Uganda last fall and I was able to see the conditions that they're living in. And really there's a lot of things that are really great about that response and really people's ability to rebuild their lives has been really interesting.

Kasia Souchen : 07:01 And is there a specific refugee or internally displaced person you have met that you think you will never be able to forget?

Maxime Michel: 07:08 Yeah, that's. I'm glad you asked that question. There's a lot of people that I get to meet in my work and it really helps to inspire the work that we continue to do. Several years ago I was in Chad and our team was responding to the crisis from the Central African Republic, so they had refugees from the Central African Republic who moved to Chad and who found some safety in camps. Um, and so I was meeting different people who we're providing assistance to. And what stands out is this, this girl who wasn't yet 18, her name was, Huwa, um, she's what we called an unaccompanied minor because there she didn't have parents come with her and she was still under age. Um, unfortunately her parents died in the conflict in the Central African Republic. And so, um, she was just seemed incredibly resilient. And, and was really excited to tell me about the things that she was putting in to place for her new life that she'd been there for several months now.

Um, she was going to school and she was really proud of that and she had never gone to secondary school and this was the first time that she was getting this opportunity, um, was, was now that she was in Chad. Um, and so she seemed just so dedicated to doing that and had so many ideas for what you wanted to do in her future. And um just. The circumstances that she was living in were really quite challenging, but you didn't get that sense from her and what our team was doing for her is part of cash distributions that we provide. And so, um, she's able to receive money to offset some of the costs of maybe her schooling or for school uniforms or for her materials and she's really able to choose what she needs in that context and we don't dictate it to her, which I think is really exciting. And um, yeah, she's really just left a mark on me for sure.

Kasia Souchen : 08:55  I think that's a great example. I can see a story like that being kind of a reason why you come back every morning to work and keep going

Maxime Michel: 09:01 Yeah, it's hard not to be touched by those kinds of stories. Yeah, we definitely see the work that we're doing every day in and how important it is to people.

Kasia Souchen : 09:11 That sounds amazing. Um, and the last question I will ask is for those listening at home to the podcast or in their car, um, how can someone make a change or difference to help refugees? I think often we maybe see the headlines and we might get overwhelmed by sort of the negative negativity of these stories. Um, but what are some ways that people can actually make a change and and help out?

Maxime Michel: 09:38 Well, I think everyone should become a humanitarian aid worker, but I also recognize that that's a, that's not the way that we can all go and, and, and everyone has different things to contribute. So I think that listening to things like this is a really good step. So staying informed and really staying engaged in what's going on in the world and making sure that you connect to your everyday to some of that and recognize the, the amazing things that we have here. Um, you might watch some documentaries, read the news, sign up for newsletters from organizations that you trust and respect.

Um really it, it doesn't cost anything to, to, to learn and be inspired. And I think that's, that's really important. And I think we could all, we could always be more engaged in, in these kinds of issues. Um, the other thing is then you can go and step further and you can share that within your network. So if you're a well informed person and you know what's going on and others don't then share uh, there's a lot of power behind that. And I think getting the word out is a, is a really big piece of that. Um sharing positive stories is probably a big piece of that because we see a lot of negative things in the news and I don't think it's about hiding the fact that there are difficult things happening in the world, but it's about not painting the world with a single brush. Um, and realizing that there's individuals and then there's amazing work going on underneath there.

So share, share, share, share, and then the last bit is I think is to think locally. I think. I think a big piece is to be engaged in our own communities and there are opportunities to impact international issues locally and in Canada that means uh sponsoring a refugee. We have an amazing private sponsorship program that people can, can take part in. Um, but we don't even have to go that far. There are different, uh, agencies in Canada that, that service refugees that are always looking for buddies. They have buddy systems and I've participated in a program like that before where you help someone figure out life in, in their new city and where they need to shop and where you get things. And so just connecting on a very human level, um, is really something that we can all do every day and can go support businesses that are run by newcomers and that kind of thing. So I think there's a lot of actions that we can, that we can take.

Kasia Souchen : 11:48 Great. I think those are really some easy, tangible things that people can do. Um, even today. Thank you so much for joining us. Um, it was really lovely to chat with you.

Maxime Michel: 11:58 Thanks for having me.