Today our campers took a deep look into Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says that we all have the right to seek asylum in another country if our own country cannot provide a safe place for us to live. Although the legal definition of asylum is complicated, we focused on asylum as safety — safety from violence, persecution, warfare, and disasters, as well as from dehumanizing poverty.
Our first guest, Jonas Kramer-Dickie, is Peacebuilders’ first camper-turned-facilitator! Jonas spent a week at camp with us in 2015 and has since completed high school and spent part of a gap year volunteering with different organizations on the U.S./Mexico border. We were thrilled to have him back to share some of his experiences, including his work placing water jugs in the desert with No More Deaths and offering welcome to migrant families at Kino Border Initiative. He helped campers understand the realities of the lives of migrants who come seeking safety in the U.S. and inspired us all to think about the difference we can make as volunteers.
Because no summer camp is complete without arts and crafts, our next activity was making refrigerator magnets out of Jarritos soda bottle caps and maps of the U.S./Mexico border. Bottle caps like these are among the items left behind as thirsty migrants make their way across the desert. Campers sipped bottles of the Mexican soda as they cut out sections of the border map and created the magnets. We discussed the irony that commodities like Jarritos, or corn, or textiles can cross borders easily but that people cannot, and the exploitation that develops from this imbalance.
Next, we were joined by three more experts on the right to seek asylum and the needs that asylum seekers in the United States have. Loyda Paz, who coordinates a telephone hotline for people being held in immigrant detention, Brian Hoffman, an immigration attorney who represents asylum seekers, and AbdulQadir, a man who has recently been granted asylum in the U.S. joined Jonas to share their insights and answer questions. They had great advice for campers who want to make a difference for asylum seekers and other migrants, either as volunteers or in future careers.
In past years, many Peacebuilders campers have been able to visit with asylum seekers in a south Georgia detention center. Although COVID19 prevents us from making visits this year, that doesn’t mean that we can’t offer support and welcome. Our counselor-in-training, Farzana, taught us all to fold origami peace cranes, which we’ll include in cards that we’ll send to detained individuals. We know that this simple gesture of friendship will brighten their lives as they wait hopefully to be granted a safe place to live. Farzana also shared a bit of her own family’s immigration story as refugees.
If there was one take-away message from all that we discussed today, it’s that the U.S. immigration system is deeply flawed and unimaginably complicated, and creates multiple roadblocks for people who need to exercise their human right to seek asylum. Even though the system makes it hard to find reasons for hopefulness, the examples that Jonas, Loyda, Brian, AbdulQadir, and Farzana provided for us make it clear that individuals can make a difference. We are grateful for their inspiring examples!