07 February, 2009

Reality vs. Simulation

“When others control the voice [of refugees], is it any wonder that the appeal is almost always for more aid and not for more rights?”

-Merrill Smith, of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants/ “Speaking Out on Warehousing: 3 Questions for Merrill Smith”

Contaminated medicine kills 84 children in Nigeria.

Apparently the medicine was mixed with diethylene glycol, a chemical used in brake fluid.

Nafdac (Nigeria’s food and drugs agency) said staff of the mixture's Lagos-based manufacturer, Barewa Pharmaceuticals, bought ingredients from an unregistered chemical dealer in a slum near the city's main tip.” (Guardian)

Unemployed in Tehran

“Independent journalists in Iran have been struggling to keep their papers going for at least a decade — not just since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president four years ago.”

“And it's not just journalism that is struggling in Iran, says Saharkhiz, noting that the government has pressured or closed many independent women and students groups.”

“They have also taken his passport, so he cannot travel. He says they would return it if he agreed to leave the country for good. Other journalists and activists have left the country, but Saharkhiz refuses to do that.”

We take free speech for granted in the US and have no idea what it’s like to not have it. I can state my opinion openly on this blog without any fear of anything. People can disrespect our President, can say a government initiative is wrong. We have some much free speech in this country, with everyone entitled to their opinion, that we’ve lost the ability to discuss things and see the other side. But this man chooses to stay in Iran where the media cannot speak the truth. He stands for a right we take for granted at great risk to himself.

We in the West have little clue how the rest of the world really lives…

Richard Branson lives “like a refugee”

Richard Branson (British tycoon) endured a simulation refugee camp (Will he recover?!? How did he sooth himself with a hot bath and hundred dollar dinner? ). The pictures show him carrying a water bowl, going to class and having his camp raided (gasp!).

This is insulting. A few years ago a group in the US invited us all to be displaced for a night, they set up tents in parks around the US and asked people to sleep outside to identify with those who live in refugee camps all the time.

As if one night gives you any indication of what is means to live in a camp.

And so this punk got his camp raided – who gives a crap! Was he ever in any real danger? No! Would anything have happened to this guy in his simulation (which p.s. is probably still a hundred times better than any real refugee camp)? No! Did he have to find his own food or have his wife risk getting raped getting water? Did he have to raise his children in his environment, never knowing life outside of it? No.

And look, the whole thing was filmed. What, is Branson going to release a documentary about how his “refugee camp” experience gives him a better perspective on the millions of people actually displaced at the moment… Is he going to release a movie comparing his experience to real camps in Darfur or Palestine?


I am so tired of the rich who are bored or feel they need to do something so they try their hand at activism and turn it into a trend. They lend their name to something or make a goodwill (media-frenzied) trip to the global south and lift their accomplishments on high. This is a joke and makes a joke of the people who are forced to live this way because their homes were destroyed or it is unsafe to return (or both)…

Read the blog from the quote at the top of the post them tell me Branson (or anyone) has the right to mock their existence. And that’s what this is a mockery! The invitation to the event (The VIP Refugee Run no less) has a debrief and promotes this as a hands on experience - going beyond a lecture. Suddenly being a refugee is equal to doing the ropes course - come build a bond on your team through this dramatic experience - can you actually trust your assistant when your camp gets raided?

Want to know what it’s like to live in a refugee camp - Bear Grills it into the DRC or Somalia or Sri Lanka with a camera and basic provisions and agree to meet your camera crew at the end of the month. Go into a camp with no protection, no detail, nothing and live with the people. If they get bombed you move with them, if you get raided you deal with the consequences, if you hear about a woman getting raped (again!) on her way to collect firewood you face that reality. Get to see the people in these camps as people – live in their joy, pain, fears, dreams, their lives… But do not set up a mock, safe, refugee camp, sleep on a cot with enough water and food and I’m guessing comfortable temperature and no real danger and then say you get it.

Or better yet, give 10% (or 1%) of your empire, tycoon man, to Doctors Without Borders, The UN Food Program, The Red Cross and leave the work to people who deal with this everyday. You are good at making money and other people are good at caring. The money spent on this mockery could have gone to real people in real camps facing real starvation and raids.

Drives me insane.

and the worse part... The UN High Commissioner for Refugees planned this event!