The Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called on attendees of the United Nation’s World Humanitarian day last week to rethink the refugee crisis.
“Nobody is ever just a refugee,” said the novelist and non-fiction writer, delivering the keynote address at the event in New York. “Nobody is ever just a single thing. And yet, in the public discourse today, we often speak of people as a single a thing. Refugee. Immigrant.”
Sub-Saharan Africa is home to more than a quarter of the world’s refugee population, about 18 million people fleeing conflict in the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Somalia, and elsewhere.
Adichie, the author of Americanah and several other books, has a personal connection to migration. Her parents were displaced during the Nigeria-Biafra war and lived as refugees for three years. She proposed a new way of thinking and talking about those in need:
In my language, Igbo, the word for ‘love’ is ‘ifunanya’ and its literal translation is, ‘to see.’ So I would like to suggest today that this is a time for a new narrative, a narrative in which we truly see those about whom we speak.
Let us tell a different story. Let us remember that the movement of human beings on earth is not new. Human history is a history of movement and mingling. Let us remember that we are not just bones and flesh. We are emotional beings. We all share a desire to be valued, a desire to matter. Let us remember that dignity is as important as food.