Solutions: Help refugees thrive, not just survive

A TED Talk by Melissa Fleming



Melissa is a compelling storyteller. Her stories shine a light on the realities of seeking asylum and the plight of refugees. The desire to make a difference stirred Melissa to step into their worlds and I am on the same page as her in believing that ‘telling their stories,’ changes things. In this video Melissa invites us to consider solutions to the current trend of warehousing refugees in environments that are not only detrimental to their mental and physical health and hugely expensive but also lack forward thinking.


The video was recorded in 2014 but is as relevant today as it was then; I would almost say it is timeless except for the fact that to say such a thing betrays all hope that the right people with the right influence will take note of Melissa’s challenges and respond in ways that bring change. She makes sense!


Key to this video is the statement: there is something more that we can do than just simply helping refugees survive. We can help them thrive.” My blinkered understanding of the refugee experience was dealt a rude shock and awakening after walking into Australian detention centres in 2014. Life changing encounters with refugees brought to Brisbane after the first terrible wave of medical emergency evacuations from Manus Island in Papua New Guinea drove me to seek out solutions. Melissa’s words have echoed in my mind for years and the questions arising from them continually stir me.


Refugees need safety. They need to be able to thrive in environments where they no longer need to live in fear, where nobody hurts or humiliates them, where nobody wants to kill them.


Why indeed, do we ‘think of refugee camps as temporary population centres?


Why do we allow people to languish for years on end waiting for wars to end?

Why can refugee camps not be places of excellence, where refugees can triumph over their trauma and train for the day they can go home as agents of positive change and social transformation?’


Melissa asks us to look at the things that cause people to flee. To consider what they left behind; utter destruction, buildings, industries, schools, roads, homes … destroyed!


She also reminds us to consider those that have been forced to flee. Yes the poor are among them but they are not all poor. There are young able people and skilled people in these camps. The restoration of their homelands will need architects. engineers, electricians … communities will need teachers and lawyers and politicians interested in reconciliation not revenge.


Why can we not imagine these societies being rebuilt by the people with the largest stake, the societies in exile, the refugees? Many of these refugees have a long time to prepare for their return.

Why are refugee camps and detention centres not places of healing. learning or even opportunity?


Melissa's anecdotes are heart-wrenching. Children facing the reality that their schooldays days are over. That opportunities to advance their life in a meaningful way no longer exist.


Why is funding for education either non existent or limited in these places?


Melissa offers us inspiration for a world changing plan of action, a chance to make a difference in thousands of lives. Her ideas offer an invitation to the world to respond with empowering compassion.


We know that abandoning people to poorly managed camps or hostile detention environments destroyed their health. These places also rob them of opportunities to function well in societies. They either miss out on technological advances or fall behind in their understanding. They are also made vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.


I hope this talk stirs your imagination as much as it does mine. I listen to it often.





My take-home encouragement from this video comes from the fact that there are imaginable solutions. We have the finances and the resources to enact them and must never give up on pushing for a more humane and practical response to people fleeing danger.



NOTE: Melissa, is the Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications. Prior to this she served UNHCR as Head of Global Communications and Spokesperson for the High Commissioner. She is author of the book, A Hope More Powerful than the Sea, and host of the award-winning podcast, Awake at Night.


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