Refugees are not Homeless by Choice

By Michael Reynolds (@mrobertreynolds)

I know the term “homeless by choice” is not a very appealing one, but in my own time of traveling coast-to-coast for 8 years as a touring musician I learned that there are many who are indeed homeless by choice. Those who have not chosen to be homeless are often mentally disabled and unable to provide for themselves though they may want to. This is not generally the case for refugees by any stretch of the imagination. 

While sitting in a makeshift Yezidi dwelling in Northern Iraq last winter, I sat with five men who had left everything in the Sinjar Mountains as Daesh (ISIS) ravaged the Mosul plain and threatened their existence in Shingal. One of these men–a Yezidi refugee–had his laptop with him and he showed me pictures of his family, his mansion, his cars, his wealth. He was not homeless before Daesh forced him away from his home; he had a career, made way more money than me, and was in a newfound position of neediness that none of his preparations, education, or work naturally warranted. 

Another group–Shabak Kurds–who fled Mosul only hours before their houses were raided by Daesh found themselves at the mercy of a few Western workers in the Soran valley. These workers built a small camp for them in the parking lot of their community center and even covered their Mercedes and BMW’s with tarps to protect them from the weather. This juxtaposition of refugees driving into your city in European luxury cars is designed to help us understand what the issue really is. Not homeless, not unemployed, but contributors to their respective societies and forced out of house, home, career, and futures by external and uncontrollable forces. 

This is important because we must recognize that those who are displaced are not simply the homeless and incapable of Syrian or Iraqi society, but businessmen, professors, lawyers, doctors, husbands, fathers, brothers, and contributors to their former societies which have now collapsed. We should try to empathize with them, imagining ourselves in their shoes. I imagine driving my two daughters across borders in my Volvo wagon seeking refuge from a storm and shade from the blaring heat of tragic circumstances beyond my realm of control. I would want any help I could get and I would be immeasurably grateful.