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Refugee Health: ensuring and asserting Well Being
We’re all familiar with pictures of refugee camps and of settlements inhabited by people forced from their homes. Depicted are shelters, some more roughshod than others. The structures can provoke a range of emotions, the least likely of which are feelings of comfort and belonging. These are really not the types of places people would call home if circumstances allowed. While the pictures do provoke reactions, the types of which are determined largely by our subject position, there is much these pictures cannot tell. The pictures can invite us—if we are willing—to look beyond their content, beyond their frame. In that case, what we are looking at transforms from pictures of shelters to commodities of a capitalist humanitarian system, to products of generations of global structures of violence, of transnational mechanisms of exclusion, and of regime made disasters, and to pictures of new, makeshift communities. The pictures can also help us imagine (so much as imagining is possible considering that even they are shaped by our cultural and personal experiences) the life people left behind, the good times, the terrifying ones, the ways of life gone perhaps forever and the ways of life currently lived and being adapted to. We may even gain a sense through the images of the ongoing anxieties, the hopes, and even the dreams (the latter having even become the focus of some recent photography of refugee experiences) of people whose trajectories have been forcibly altered. For the luckier ones, these places will be temporary residences. For others, these will be the last places they know as age, disease or the extensions of conflict take their lives.
This issue of reflections focuses on the politics and ethics of healthcare provision to refugees. The provision of healthcare to individuals displaced and on the move is an ethical imperative. It involves a responsibility to attend to the physical or emotional suffering of people, and it is also as a way of extending and integrating newcomers into their new (possibly, but not likely, temporary) community.
Also included in this issue are reports on refugee healthcare in two countries that have been taking a great proportion of Syrian refugees. One is a broad overview of refugee healthcare in Jordan—with a particular focus on palliative care—produced by McMaster Global Health student Madeline McDonald. The other is a summary prepared by Dr. Michel Daher about the ethics and the current state of providing universal healthcare to refugees in Lebanon. In their own way, each report reveals the extent to which the governments and healthcare professionals in these countries are inherently involved in attending to the physical and psychological wellbeing of their new, unexpected arrivals. The reports also point to where current practices fall short, especially as concerns the response by the larger global community, thus providing us with more knowledge with which to read pictures of refugee experiences.
With over 65 million people having been forcibly displaced from their homes there is a growing sense of normalization around this phenomenon, even though to consider this situation as the new (or growing) norm is grounds for provoking indignation, as John Pringle demonstrates in this edition’s Commentary. A degree of normalization within the camps and settlements, however, is a crucial imperative for those living within them as it provides an existential sense of wellbeing, and of being a Well Being rather than disposable. This is the theme uniting ongoing projects summarized in this issue.
Sonya de Laat, PhD(c)
Co-Editor of Reflections,
PhD candidate in Media Studies, FIMS Western University
Research Coordinator, HHE research group, McMaster University