Johanna’s Story | “All that separates us is circumstance”

University College Cork (UCC) student Johanna Murray has just over two weeks left with our team in Haiti. Here, in her latest blog, she looks at how easy it can be for important global issues to be dehumanised and calls on us to open our arms to others who face difficulties we can’t even imagine.

Well everyone, we’re almost there. My three months is almost at an end.

As my placement comes to a finish, I have been doing a lot of thinking back on my time here and my experiences and, despite last week’s blog, I haven’t been totally immune to all the drama occurring internationally at the moment. Countries like Italy are denying migrants entry to their countries; people are blaming “violent” developing countries for assaults in Ireland; and the alt-right is on the rise, to mention a few. People are looking for an alternative: the system wasn’t friendly or beneficial to them in the past and, now, they are looking for scapegoats and a change.

Unfortunately, politicians around the world are taking advantage of this mindset.  They seek to dehumanise the issues. If we don’t believe we are similar to or think that we can’t relate to these supposed scapegoats, well, then it’s much easier to blame them for issues which are not their fault, and it is much easier to be perfectly okay with denying people fleeing from war or difficulty any sort of refuge. Of course, I have always been a firm believer in allowing people who fear for their lives into my country, but I see posts online every day of people slamming the Irish government for allowing in so many immigrants – yet there seems to be flaw in the logic there. In 2017, Ireland had only accepted 273 of the 4,000 we initially agreed with the European Commission to welcome, while, in 2016, of the 2,245 applications of asylum for refugees we received, only 20.8% got refugee status.

My point here is that we have grown immune to the suffering of our fellow human beings because we do not see it on a daily basis.

In terms of the global south, we get too used to hearing about the awful conditions of refugee camps throughout the world. We allow leaders such as Donald Trump to rise to power, a man who called developing countries a bad word which I’m probably not allowed write. We fear refugees will cause a strain on our health systems and education, or that they cost our governments too much money. I think one has to be in a fairly privileged position to be okay with denying a human being safe refuge or even denying them the right to find a better life for themselves.

The people of Haiti are just fellow human beings like us, trying to get by and make the best lives for themselves. They have families, hopes and dreams just like any person who lives in Ireland, the United Kingdom (UK), America and any other country in the world. On the journeys down to south Haiti, I’m often struck by just how human these people are and how, through continued oppression on many different levels, we are allowing ourselves to dehumanise them.

I think I mentioned before about how many people asked me why on earth I was going to Haiti, saying it’s too dangerous and so poor. Yes, Haiti is poor and, at times, dangerous but that should not define this country. This is a place filled to the brim with laughing, expressive people who go through so much more hardship on a daily basis then many would in Ireland. There is amazing culture here: everything is so colourful. Sometimes I think people are arguing but they’re just being extremely passionate!

However, after a certain point in Haiti, you cannot do much more for yourself: the systems are simply not there. And, yet, there are thousands of individuals who would both deny people in that position their rights because it simply does not suit them or because they feel threatened, while, at the same time, hold that, if an Irish person goes to live in Haiti or Dubai or Australia, that’s okay.

I saw a great article the other day questioning why people from some countries are called expats and everyone else is called an immigrant. The people of Ireland definitely weren’t called expats in the past, yet people are looking to countries like ours for that same chance of a better life and so many of us are willing to deny it for our own sake.

It just hits me every time I walk around Haiti and Île à Vache. Organisations like Haven are doing fantastic long-term work for the people here, and those people, just like you and I, are humans: all that separates us is circumstance.

After three months living here, my goal of helping people has been reinforced. I would love to be so lucky as to work for an organisation like Haven in the future. But, regardless of what I end up doing, I will live by the motto “fight for your world, not your country”.

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