Shouts ring out like gunfire; flashes of light exploding from small green bombs; deafening, murderous. These memories replay throughout countless refugees’ minds everyday, kindling feelings of trauma day by day. Not only are refugees cursed with these events which are stained in their minds- but they also experience constant racism, anxiety, and hopelessness as they attempt to assimilate into a culture that is now being forced onto them. The everyday struggles of a refugee, or a person forced to flee their home country, are exceptionally described in the book Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai.
She follows a young girl from Vietnam through her futile attempts to acquire her old life back again, all while dealing with near-death experiences, hopelessness, and the loss of innocence; a completely common struggle with any given refugee. Throughout such a refugee’s life, every day may be a struggle as they never will completely fit into one culture. Awareness and acceptance of refugees is an absolute necessity if we are to call ourselves civilised peoples– a possible first step of understanding being the reading of the book Inside Out & Back Again. Bombs, guns, destruction, and hopelessness are four things common to any given refugee.
Although they do not all go through the exact same experience, they all tend to be alarmingly similar. “Mother comes home with two fingers wrapped in white. The electric machine sews so fast,” says Ha on page 149 of Inside Out & Back Again. After being forced from her home of Vietnam, new customs were thrown not only at her, but at her mother as well. Prior to fleeing their home, Ha’s mother was viewed as an exceptional seamstress; now that she is forced into a new culture that values efficiency, however, she is stripped of the one thing she values most: her pride and talent.
This inevitably leads to depressive behaviours, lost motivation, and shame. The struggle of losing things that give you pride when fleeing your home is most certainly not a fictional situation. It does, in fact, happen to nearly every refugee today. In fact, mere happiness itself becomes quite the abstract concept to many refugees. “It’s been 10 years since the last time I was happy. After the death of my husband I don’t remember being happy anymore. After he died I took on such a lot of responsibility, trying to make sure the family is happy.
Now we have to adapt to what we have,” says Samira, a refugee from Syria (Oxfam). The incessant struggles that a refugee faces becomes custom– a never ending loop of dismay which causes sadness to be their most prominent emotion. Racism, loss of familiarity, and trauma are all different things that induce depression alarmingly often in refugees no matter their ages. Although refugee children may not be able to fully identify what they are feeling, everything previously stated is experienced exactly the same no matter their age.
Not only is this covered in the book Inside Out & Back Again, but various interviews and articles explain this thoroughly. “Refugee children… go through a process of mourning… losses. The grieving process in refugee children, however, is seldom recognised as such. Although these children may not known the concept of being homesick; they feel it all the same. Although some will not talk about their experience for the fear of upsetting their parents, perhaps it is also true that many do not talk because we do not listen,” says Ana Marie Fantino and Alice Colak on page 590 of “Refugee Children in Canada: Searching for Identity”.
It could be argued that refugee children are the ones most affected by their situation; the lack of attention, acceptance, and their ignorance due to their age forces them to experience an alien situation that they haven’t the ability to speak about. This could lead to various psychological disorders throughout their life among an array of other problems. The only way to aid in their assimilation is to give not only them, but every refugee the same amount of respect, attention, and aid that we would give any other person.
Refugees experience a unique struggle when fleeing their country; one that neither we as everyday people nor immigrants (people who also leave their country-though on their own accord), could ever fully understand. Trying to understand, however, is the one thing that could make them feel even the slightest bit more comfortable as they try to recognise their new-found safety. When depression becomes a customary feeling in refugees as they live in a new country, we must know that something must be done. It isn’t something they can help, but rather something we can help.
Eventually, refugees will be able to assimilate into their new country. Perhaps not fully, but at least to a point of which they are comfortable. This isn’t achieved by merely themselves, however. It is achieved by the contribution of the community to the refugee population. Refugee programmes are one of several ways the community may help as Til Gurung, a Bhutanese refugee, covers in his interview for a programme named “Refugee Transitions”. “Many of us do not speak English… Refugee Transitions offers classes and tutoring… for people who have nowhere else to go.
By providing this language training and other support services… Refugee Transitions is filling a real need in our community. ” Because of the lack of education in most countries that refugees come from, they enter English speaking countries in complete ignorance. This is a salient issue, as without being able to speak English in a country where it is the primary language, you cannot do even the most basic things. Therefore, these programmes are absolutely essential in the rapid assimilation of refugees into a new country.
Not only does community reception aid in assimilation, but it may also restore hope in these refugees– something they may not have had for an extended period of time. On page 260 of Inside Out & Back Again, Ha concludes her story by saying, “This year I hope I truly learn to fly-kick, not to kick anyone so much as to fly. ” When she says this, it conveys a sense of newfound hope; hope she only found when she finally learned to adapt due to the community around her. Community reception is awfully important, if not the most important factor contributing to refugees’ adaption.
If Ha were to not be recognised, she would most certainly be stuck in this depressive state as she would not have anyone to speak to. She, among most refugee children, do not want to burden their families with how they feel. Getting things off of their minds in either groups or to one individual person can be the deciding factor on whether or not their new life will turn out well. Despite refugees’ struggles, they all seem to come to a consensus on whether or not fleeing was the best option.
As Ghaith, a Syrian refugee who fled to Sweden, says when asked what he would tell other Syrians debating on fleeing, “Do it. Prepare to fully integrate, learn the language, adapt to the social structure, and embrace the culture. And he should love this new country from the bottom of his heart, because this new country accepted him. ” (NewYorker) Although refugees may miss home, they soon come to understand that fleeing their country was in their best interest. As years pass and they find jobs, friends, and safety; start families, and assimilate; they feel comfortable and safe.
One could even say that eventually they find that their lives have ultimately turned “back again”. This could not be achieved, however, without the reception and aid of the surrounding community. The book Inside Out & Back Again is an exceptional portrayal of the average refugee’s experience. From Ha’s family’s hopelessness to hopefulness, her situation is conveyed in such a way that could effectively bring awareness to refugees and what they experience on a day to day basis. Acceptance and awareness are ultimately the two things that any given refugee could benefit from.
In fact, they very well could be the things that aid them in integrating quickly and contentedly. Gunfire, shouts, and flashing lights from bombs are the things that stain the minds of many refugees. Their minds are always loud, full of stress, and in search for any bit of comfort they can get. What if a simple soft spoken word could silence this mess? What if an “I hear you” could cease the innate warfare? What if anyone could comfort these broken people with little effort at all? What if I told you that they could?