World refugee day is 20th June 2016 this year. Whereas this community goes through numerous challenges along their numerous journeys, one aspect in particular is usually neglected -That is the impact of refugee status on an individual’s relationship with their tangible and intangible heritage.
What and how much of refugees’ heritage of origin can be salvaged at their places of temporary abode to bring them closer to their psycho-social identity at their places of temporary abode, some of which later on become become an individual’s lifetime place of stay and consequently places of human identity. Think Somali refugees in Kenyan borders for instance.
Cultural and social identity questions that come to mind in these instances include the following:
Does a place of long time abode post-conflict make for a refugee’s firm root identifier? What explains dual citizen’s deep desire to identify with places of origin even where they have found economic haven elsewhere? Think American Jews’ relationship with Israel. Is it possible that refugees are also in the same need? Also think recent events of American and European born terrorists that purpot to terrorise in the name of ‘their places of origin’, some of which they have never set foot on.
Can these occurences provide lessons on what psycho-socio-cultural challenges refugees may go through? The need for roots in a geographical place elsewhere from one’s place of everyday interaction? What leads to this identity need in the first place? What then can be done to nurture such needs to lead to positive, rather than negative outcomes in future? While the backdrop of negatives events in particular cannot explain mobile refugees’ wished relationship with their ‘back home’ identities on the move, they can help us understand the possible longings of an individual refugee’s quest for a now virtual identity negotiated and expressed in a virtual reality on transit.
To asses the possible heritage identity conservation on the move, there is need to look at categories where such identities could be constituted. Here three loose categories come to mind as follows:
1. Conflict zone refugees – these are conventional refugee we think about when the word comes up. Many parts of Africa have for a long time provided examples of this type of refugees who are suddenly forced to scale down their identity to a few items of their life and uproot to a safer location. The Arab spring has also recently produced most of these. In such instances all an individual can take is their memory that can later on be expressed through external museums (where an opportunity arises) or through culinary remembrances, or through small social performances of rituals abroad to remember ‘home’ as it was. In certain instances some of former cultural activities find themselves in contrast with laws and regulations of countries in which they are now being re-enacted, forcing them into a category of ‘evolving identities’ to fit into international human rights standards that may not necessarily have been enforced ‘back home’. Think female circumcision rituals, capital child punishments, etc. In some cases where refugees are forced into camps with the hope to return home (think Somali refugees in Kenya camps). The question is how are an individual’s heritage events and spaces impacted while they are existing in perceived temporal turmoil? How can hosts of such people assist in them safeguarding the necessary heritage that can be used to resolve conflict when the situation goes back to near-normal? We have to think about these as we face this unbearable situation of refugees losing their self-worth in addition to their economic and social worth.
2. Development refugees – In mot of Africa in particular we view refugees as those of war ton zones but in the context of heritage identity analysis the people that are the ones forced to relocate from their cultural geographies to pave way for development. Think displacement of certain communities to set up protected areas that make international tourists’ holiday enjoyable and therapeutic. For instance displacements such CKGR in Botswana, Kruger National Park RSA, Serengeti in Tanzania. While these are relocation for seemingly noble causes of amassing wealth for the greater population, it does not cancel out the fact that some people’s identities are disrupted and their emotional well-being changed for ever. The question is what can be done to modify this type of impact. Overlaying cultural attributes of such cultural spaces through research and continuing to express such values to tourists through the local communities that identify with such spaces is one sure way of making this particular heritage in refuge to become heritage in for refuge.
3. Economic refugees– whereby there is no war or displacement but the country is just poor and its citizens are moving elsewhere to amass economic wealth that can be re-invested back in their country. Think Ethiopia. This is the most amenable because the diaspora can mobilise key stakeholders back home to initiate heritage conserving activities such as building heritage institutions that can host those traditions and practices in danger.
CONCLUSION: As we go about the world international day of refugees, in terms of heritage and identity let us know that refugees are people with a heritage identity that they would appreciate to keep where possible, and as we host them we have to be thinking of these psycho-social needs, beyond just shelter and food. We also have to understand that heritage identity is also refuge in people who are displaced for economic development purposes as well, and as such there is need to find an expert way of alleviating the impact on psycho-social life.