A young woman stands in front of a cabin in the jungle in Guatemala.

Remembering Refugees

I started a Twitter account to go along with this blog. I follow humanitarian agencies  and journalists.

All I see are updates about refugees.

They are being plucked out of the sea. They are children arriving alone. They are not prepared for the winter. They can’t go home, and they can’t go on.

And then I think about all the refugees and asylum seekers that didn’t get the world’s attention by landing in Europe in such as dramatic way.

This is not a new problem. For now, though, it’s a visible one.

Most end up in countries bordering the ones they fled. Sometimes they are granted asylum. Others live for years in refugee camps. Some live in the margins of the new country in a political no-man’s land where “stateless” is equated with “criminal.”

I remember one man I met in Nebaj, Guatemala.

He approached me as I got off the bus and showed me a tattered photocopy from The Lonely Planet. I could barely read the print it was so worn. He told me that he was a guide and had a positive review in the guidebook. Then he pulled out a tiny notebook, and I flipped through page after page of glowing reviews from other travelers.

Crosses and flowers mark a mass grave in Nebaj Guatemala.His name was Gaspar, and he told me his story over the day we spent together.

Gaspar was an Ixil Mayan. At 11 years old, his family, along with so many others, was killed in the Civil War. He joined a small group of orphans, and together they hiked through the Cuchumantes Mountains for 7 months until reaching a refugee camp in the Chiapas State of Mexico. He spent the next 8 years living in the camp.

In 1994, the Guatemalan Peace Accords were signed. At the same time, violence erupted in the Chiapas State between the Zapatistas and the Mexican government. Gaspar returned home to Nebaj. He works when he can but always struggles since he has no family, no house, no land, no education, no job skills, and is illiterate.

Gaspar took me to Las Tombas, a mass grave where local come to pray and pay respects to those killed in the Civil War. In truth, most people don´t really know if their loved ones’ remains are interred there, but they come to mourn anyway.

guatemala refugeeWhen I think about refugees, I think about Gaspar. He was so generous with his story.

Just before I left, he asked this: “Please, when you go home, show people the pictures. Tell them my story.”




Further reading:

Myre, G. (2015, October 10). Here’s Where Refugees Actually Wind Up [news article]. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2015/10/10/443448261/heres-where-refugees-actually-wind-up?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=2035

Yahya, M. (2015, October 28). Bashi’s Journey May Signal a Bigger Refugee Crisis to Come [news article]. Retrieved from http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/blog/2015/10/28/Bashis-journey-may-signal-a-bigger-refugee-crisis-to-come.html

UNHCR Warns of “Looming Refugee Crisis” in the Americas. (2015, October 28). Retrieved from http://www.unhcr.org/5630fc6a9.html



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