During a conversation with an African refugee about his time in the UNHCR camp, he stopped for a moment. Shaking his head, he quietly said, "Life as a refugee in the camps is horrible. I would go to bed at night and pray that God would let me die. It is horrible."
From what I've heard elsewhere, he had good reason for that sentiment. Chronic malnutrition, unsanitary conditions, rampant disease and the constant threat of rape for the women. The host country refused to let the refugees farm or even do much work, so most were constantly hungry and had few ways to pass the time. Another refugee who fled the camps to live illegally in an urban center commented, "The conditions in the refugee camp were very hard to bear...I survived by dreaming of the day when I would be back in the DR Congo. But I was doing nothing with my life but dreaming."
At the end of our conversation, my friend again shook his head and commented, "Americans do not understand what it is like. They cannot." And I know he is right. For most of us, our lives have no reference point for what he has experienced. But while we may not understand, we can listen to their stories. We can befriend the brave men and women who have made it this far and learn from them. If nothing else, it helps put "first world" problems in perspective