Redress Matters II (and what we can do about it)
“Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Hope in this deep and powerful sense is not the sense of joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good.” — Vaclav Havel
This quote hangs on the wall by my desk so that when I glance up, I am reminded of why I choose certain paths regardless of how impractical or impossible they may seem at times.
I wrote previously of the symbolic and personal importance of judicial redress for human rights violations. My own experiences with deportation / migration / citizenship in the best of possible circumstances reinforced the reality that for most people, immigration is one of abysmal bureaucracy, invisibility, stress, and marginalization. Even with my privileged passport and education, I am constantly struggling with matters of immigration for myself and my daughter, and of feelings of loss. If this is hard for me given my relative privilege, how much worse must it be it for those who flee their homes having endured and witnessed unspeakable acts, only to seek refuge in systems not designed to accommodate, but to discourage them? It is a question that I cannot dwell on for too long because the answer is so painful.
These questions led me to conversations with my good friend Michael Goecken, who listened to me, then pushed and pushed until we started Project Phoenix together. We spent our first year in exploration mode, trying to understand how we can possibly be of use in addressing such an enormous issue as the injustices suffered through migration. We sponsored research to find out what others are doing in Europe to help people get on their feet. We understood that the people facing the most acute challenges were asylum seekers and refugees. I personally feel the work that we are now pursuing through Project Phoenix is, in part, my desire to contribute to redressing grievous wrongs and unspeakable hardships faced by those who have made it to the shores of Europe, only to find more difficulties, a lack of resources, and administrative oppression waiting for them.
Redress does not only have to come through legal mechanisms, as it did in my case. It is swifter, more personal, and more deeply meaningful when it is extended by concerned individuals. Sometimes it seems that we have forgotten our own power to right injustices, and instead we defer to our systems to address problems that we believe are so large in scale that we have no power. But we do! It can be as simple as a sharing of resources, knowledge, networks… access to things that we have at our fingertips that can make a world of difference to someone working to get on their feet. We don’t realize how easy it is to lend a hand to those without networks and resources who are starting anew. This message of solidarity and recognition is one that carries extraordinary personal value. When an asylum seeker knocks, the least we can do is open the door and show them in.
That is the spirit in which we started Project Phoenix — in the belief that opening doors and connecting both local and international communities with asylum seekers and migrants and by helping people in identifying opportunities and paths towards independence, will be a step towards remedying the injustices survived by those who are now trying to start new lives. This work will also inform us so that we can effectively and authentically advocate for meaningful and urgent systemic changes to provide effective remedies for asylum seekers and refugees, but cultivating interpersonal and community relationships will always be at the forefront of our work. This for me defines that hope referred to Havel’s quote: we have the ability to work for something because it is good.