If you are someone who has worked with refugees, you know how many of them have this birth date, 01/01/___, listed on their documents. I can’t even guess how many students I’ve had over the years who needed to learn this date as well as the questions: What’s your birth date? When is your birthday? What’s your age? How old are you?
Some of them came from traditional cultures which did not emphasize hospital births or printed documents to verify identity. For others, the January 1st date hints at the chaotic conditions in the places they left; birth certificates and other documents were frequently destroyed or lost as they fled violence. It’s an easy solution of course, for international agencies processing people through a system that requires data – give them all January 1st and based on the information available make a good guess at the year.
Looking back on 2015, we cannot ignore the crisis of refugees and internally displaced people. As global leaders debate where they should go, who should pay for it, and how they should get there – the numbers grow. Latest reports show totals that surpass all other previous records for global forced displacement, on track to exceed 60 million people. That’s one in every 122 people who has been forced to flee home.
Today is the official birth date shared by more people on our planet than any other. To each of them, “Happy Birthday!” and best wishes for a year of promise and healing. May they witness a surge of compassion and commitment to meet their needs.
I remain inspired by many friends and colleagues in Fargo, and everywhere, who do the work of welcoming newcomers every day. And to every refugee who has touched my life over the years, “Thank you!”
Celebrating my birthday with New American students in Fargo, May 2015