Most Americans do not know what it is like to have to leave your home, your neighborhood and your country and undertake a perilous journey that you do not know what awaits you if you are lucky enough to survive the crossing. However, for more than 65 million people in places like South Sudan, Syria or Iraq, this is a reality.
An exhibit now going on at Boston’s Long Wharf by Doctors Without Borders brings the experience of the journey to those who attend the exhibit. For many at the exhibit, it is difficult to imagine what it is really like as one sits in a raft that overlooks the calm Harbor and is not overcrowded but is secure on land. One cannot really imagine what is like to go into a refugee camp ringed with barbed wire and mud with thousands of people huddled together in little tents. And one cannot really imagine what it is like to wait in these camps hoping that you can be allowed into a country. However, this is a reality for millions of displaced people.
The exhibit consists of several exhibits and starts with a 360-degree film about life crossing the sea and living in the refugee camps.
The next step starts with why one would flee their home. The causes are called push factors and can include war, ethnic or religious persecution, political strife, economic instability, lack of access to health care or natural disaster. And now in this make-believe scenario, participants must choose only five things to take out of 20 items that range from cell phone, family photographs, money, jewelry, medicines, wheelchair, clothing, food, cooking utensils or family pets. And before you board the raft, one item is given up. And so it goes on as the refugee tries to complete his journey to a new life.
At the opening of the exhibit on Saturday, one refugee told of his story. Dr. Ahmed Abdalrazag told how as a seven-year old boy, his family left Iraq in 1998 where bombs were exploding and the smell of death was in the air. The family went to Jordan then to Egypt and to Libya. Forced from Libya, the family went to Tunisia. He told how as a doctor he helped other refugees in Tunisia. He mentioned how a 15-year old boy lost his sight due to an infection that could have been fixed by a simple surgery. Today, Dr. Abdalrazag and his family are citizens of the United States.
He pointed out, “a refugee can be anyone. A refugee is not constrained by color or race. Refugees are not necessarily people seeking financial stability. They can be artists, athletes, dancers, doctors, philosophers – humans with ambitions and dreams, which can be as simple as a safe place to live, with walls and a roof, absent of the dangers and fears that they have been fleeing.”
The exhibit on Long Wharf titled Forced From Home will be open free of charge to the public until October 23.