'It Could Be You Or Me': Interview With UNHCR Communications Officer Caroline Gluck

'It Could Be You Or Me': Interview With UNHCR Communications Officer Caroline Gluck
Photo Credit: The News Lens/Olivia Yang
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'These are people like you and me, who had homes, jobs and pride. Their kids went to school. They were proud of their country.'

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“We’re going to look back on this period and think it’s such a shameful period. I think we have lost our humanity by letting this crisis go on for six years with so many million people affected.”

Caroline Gluck, former journalist for the BBC and International Herald Tribune, has been senior public communication officer for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) since 2015. She is currently based in Baghdad, Iraq, and is in Taiwan to share her new book (currently only available in Chinese), No Dead Bodies After 3.30pm, which documents her years of experience in humanitarian work.

“I used to think that we can’t do very much as individuals, but then I realized – by seeing a lot of amazing people in different countries – we can actually do a lot as individuals,” Gluck told The News Lens International.

Raising awareness of any humanitarian crisis is not easy. Gluck says she understands it is very easy to make a scapegoat out of minority groups when economic situations are bad.

An estimated 11 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of the civil war in 2011. According to UNHCR, 4.8 million people have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, while 6.6 million are internally displaced within Syria and around 1 million have requested asylum to Europe.

“I think it is important to stress that people aren’t there to cause problems,” says Gluck. “They just want to try and rebuild some kind of normalcy in their lives. They want to contribute to the society they are living in.”

Syrians do not want to be refugees living in a country that is unfamiliar to them, and people are only hoping to go to Europe because of their current poor living conditions, she says.

“But generally they want to stay close by with the goal of going home,” says Gluck. “These are people like you and me, who had homes, jobs and pride. Their kids went to school. They were proud of their country.”

"I think it’s showing how these people have very little difference to ourselves that we understand, 'I could be in this situation,' 'my world could turn upside down,' 'how would I feel if people in other countries couldn’t offer me this basic help.' That’s why I feel strongly that people should be more open-minded about this," says Gluck.

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Photo Courtesy of Caroline Gluck

When speaking about what the refugees need most, the humanitarian worker says while they currently lack many resources – which varies depending on what country they are living in – what they need most is money.

“The money to pay the rent, to buy food, to buy clothes for children, because a lot of the UN organizations have had budget cuts,” says Gluck.

Other than the material resources most people tend to think of, psychological support is also something refugees need most, she says.

“People are really traumatized, especially the children,” Gluck says. “They really need to sit down with a trained specialist and talk about what they have been through.”

Though Taiwanese might not be able to provide psychological support due to language barriers, having spent nearly five years in Taiwan when she was a journalist, Gluck notes that Taiwanese have skills and assets, especially in terms of new technology, that can also help. But like most countries, more awareness needs to be raised among the people.

“I know that when economic difficulties happen, governments tend to look inwards and to be more insular. But I think that’s opposite of what should happen,” says Gluck. “We should open up a lot more and have dialogues between different countries about ways forward, because what has happened in Syria has affected the whole world now.”

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Photo Courtesy of Caroline Gluck

However, Gluck believes ultimately what is most lacking is not people helping in terms of donating money or providing other aid, but responsibility from politicians to listen to people and take action to stop the fighting in Syria.

“That’s the only thing that will stop the crisis,” says Gluck. “It’s not humanitarians going in and providing assistance, it’s actually politicians agreeing that enough is enough, and coming together with some agreement.”

“I should be incredibly depressed, and some days I am. But so many times I meet people and they’re fighters. They haven’t given up hope,” says Gluck. “It’s the inspirational stories that always surprise me and always fill me with some kind of hope for people.”

Note: Taiwan Legislative Yuan’s Internal Administration Committee on July 15 passed the initial review of a draft Refugee Act, which would allow foreigners or stateless persons to apply for asylum in Taiwan if proven they have been forced out of their home country due to war or natural disaster. It would also grant asylum to those who show that they have ample reason to fear persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, social group or political views.

First Editor: Edward White
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole

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