A new interactive exhibit in Minneapolis gives striking context to what life is like for some of the world’s 68.5 million refugees. It’s also a reminder of what’s at stake in this state if Minnesota retreats from its proud, productive legacy of welcoming those in need and suspends refugee resettlement because of political pressure.
“Forced From Home” is presented by Doctors Without Borders, an international, independent medical humanitarian organization that is on the front lines of a crisis spanning countries and continents.
The exhibit is located in the park across from U.S. Bank Stadium known as the Commons — a metaphorically appropriate name for a crisis that can create refugees out of ordinary citizens with alarming speed if they’re fleeing fast-moving dynamics such as political strife, war or violence, ethnic or religious tension, or environmental degradation or natural disasters. All of those are among “push factors” triggering a refugee exodus that will only be exacerbated by climate change.
Visitors to the exhibit, which is open through Sunday, can get a better, and more sympathetic, sense of the plight through artifacts such as field medical facilities, refugee tents or a dinghy like the type often used in deadly Mediterranean crossings. Or by viewing the 360-degree video dome depicting refugee stories in multiple countries, as well as taking part in a virtual reality experience.
But the most compelling component of “Forced From Home” isn’t virtual, but hearing from real people with firsthand experience such as Dr. Sarah Giles, one of several Doctors Without Borders professionals who are on site. Giles has done field work in South Sudan, Pakistan and Myanmar and on a rescue ship in the Mediterranean, where she tended to refugees fleeing strife in several African nations.
“Home is home no matter where you are; no one wants to leave when violence comes,” Giles told an editorial writer.
Giles hopes that visitors “see people rather than numbers.” But the numbers are indeed daunting. And despite perceptions fueled by populist demagogues in Europe or President Donald Trump here at home, it’s not the West but developing nations such as Pakistan, Uganda and Bangladesh that make up nine of the top 10 countries of arrival (Germany, the exception, is sixth). That means the U.S. — and especially Minnesota, with its excellent and experienced resettlement agencies — must do its part.
Those political candidates who cite cost, among other factors, for their anti-refugee positions are ignoring longer-term gains. An Urban Institute analysis shows that refugees eventually become a net economic positive with high labor-participation rates, which is especially important in Minnesota in light of the labor shortage.
The more profound question isn’t monetary, but moral.
“We can’t isolate and tell ourselves it’s not happening; We have a moral obligation as human beings to help people who need it the most,” Giles said. “Kindness is the currency of humanity. And without it we don’t have society as we know it.”
‘FORCED FROM HOME’
• When: 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, ending Sept. 16.
• Where: The Commons, across from U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis.