Refugees are entitled to human rights. A refugee is a survivor of circumstances so horrific that the only way out is to literally leave friends, family and the place you call home, maybe for good.
A refugee is a hero who risks everything for a better life, a better life for the people he or she loves, and for a future in which education is taken for granted, where children are children, and where mundane life is peaceful; most importantly, a place to be happy.
Yesterday, I participated in a fun race organized for the Red Cross to raise money for Syrian refugees in Lebanese refugee camps. The need for more funding is more imminent with each day and the 175 runners who paid the fee to run the 5 km race donated towards a program called Healthcare on Wheels.
The fee to participate was ISK 2,500 per participant 15 years of age and older and ISK 500 for 14 and under, and for anyone wanting to donate more, an additional voluntary amount could be charged.
Before the run commenced, Icelandic Red Cross Director Þórir Guðmundsson, welcomed the runners and talked about the difficult decision Syrian refugees are faced with when living in camps desperately in need of funding.
He told us about parents who are forced to keep their kids out of school in order to heat the tents they inhabit in this no-man’s-land, for as days and nights grow colder, heating is essential to their survival.
It was a beautiful day for a run. Cold 4°C but with hardly any wind to speak of for this time of year. The leaves were rich in the autumn shades and in spite of the occasional drizzle, the weather was as good as it can be for this time of year.
After the run, all participants were offered an Icelandic meat soup – a dish I myself have never enjoyed and therefore declined the kind offer – with water or soda water.
At 12:00 pm, actor Björgvin Franz Gíslason announced the winners of the men’s and women’s races. Both were handsomely awarded with gift cards and beautiful bouquets of flowers.
Following the award ceremony, he proceeded to announce the winners in a lottery for all participants in the race. I think there were about 35 items to be won and actor Björgvin Franz often added a comic note as he handed out the awards.
Afterwards, he thanked all of us for participating and mentioned the generous donation from a fund belonging to the staff of Sjávargrillið, a restaurant in Reykjavík City center.
I was curious to know how much they had donated and asked one of the Red Cross personnel on location. She informed me that the donation amounted to ISK 500,000 to a cause desperate for more funding.
It was truly heartwarming to hear and I encourage anyone dining out at Sjávargrillið to let them know how awesome they are.
It’s daunting to read news about the thousands of refugees coming to Europe, hoping for a better life. All they ask for is help and the opportunity to start a new life away from the horrors of war.
It’s simple enough. War is hell on earth and no human being should have to suffer for bureaucratic reasons upon arrival in Europe. It’s not about their religion, as often seems to be the excuse used to not receive and host refugees in Western countries.
It’s about helping them start a new life in a new country, and providing them with all the help they need to do so.
The world is in a frightful state at the moment and, yes, even though we fear members of extreme groups arriving in Europe, let’s not let that fear prevent us from being decent human beings and welcoming the thousands of refugees who have crossed the Mediterranean on their way to their new homes, whether temporarily or permanently.
I don’t feel I have done nearly enough to help and with time, I hope to volunteer for the Red Cross in one way or another.
But for now, I hope the donations will help to make the stay in the refugee camps in Lebanon a little easier, and hopefully people in need will be made to feel more like the precious human beings they truly are.
Júlíana Björnsdóttir – [email protected]