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Entangling Fates: Accompaniment of People on the Move this International Migrants Day

In-Sight was born of a desire to shift the narrative on migration and modern displacement, starting with the refugee crisis in northern Greece in 2016 and rapidly expanding to other regions and populations of people forced to flee. As we grow and adopt new methods, models, and theories, I still struggle to choose one word to summarize this organization and our complex but necessary vision for the world. Somewhat serendipitously, I recently stumbled upon a reminder of a beautiful Greek word with no direct translation.

Φιλότιμο (filotimo) can best be described as “love of honor”, a love based on putting the needs of others before the needs of your own and acting in a way that displays undying loyalty to those you love. It is communicated not so much through words, but through actions- by being consistent and trustworthy, by being fair and just, by being honest, and by expressing your love through simple gestures like showing up, listening carefully, and maybe bringing a plate of bolani. It means going the distance and not giving up when things get tough. It means investing in the lives of others with the same verocity you'd invest in your own; an entanglement of fates.

I love my job and I love the way I do it, using a model called “accompaniment” that prioritizes the cultivation of long-lasting, meaningful relationships between a population affected by structural violence, displacement, or other social injustices, and the people coming to support them.

The upside of this model is that it challenges the worst parts of modern-day humanitarianism: white saviorism, volunteerism and disaster porn, exploitation of people for funding, and wasted resources on empty interventions. It also creates a sense of community that is a lifeline in this marginalized place that can best be described as the underbelly of the world. In the face of great uncertainty, when others would likely throw in the towel and move on to easier objectives, by design we refuse to give up through trying times and know how to scrape together the power of the network; if not to solve the problem, then to at least persevere together. Sometimes patience and diligence are all we need.

The downside of this model is that these relationships come with deep, deep emotional wounds when something goes wrong.

When our brothers are put behind bars.

When our loved ones wander into the unknown and are never heard from again.

When we are sitting among the people society pushes to the margins and see a solution to our problem right in front of us – tantalizingly close – but just out of reach.

When your undying loyalty isn't enough to save them.

When we realize that we are at the mercy of structural violence and the system cuts deep wounds into our morality… this is when I am tempted to wonder what my life would look like if I had chosen to do things a different way.

Reading a letter from the Chios jail

In 2020 we faced a laundry list of new challenges as individuals and as an organization. Not a single person will emerge from this year unscathed as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on.

Notoriously underserved and excluded, migrant populations have been some of the hardest hit by COVID-19 not just physiologically, but socially as well. Tightening border enforcement, a reduction in asylum and legal services, and stringent migration policies are having dramatic consequences on our brothers and sisters on the move. They face a gauntlet of obstacles when it comes to seeking safety and justice. Our approach to supporting them needs to be holistic. Socially and politically, this virus is being used as a fear tactic to further stigmatize forcibly displaced people. Financial support of non-government organizations and charities that serve migrant communities is drying up or being reallocated as systems repeatedly fail to sufficiently respond to the consequences of COVID-19. Recent actions by governments are suggesting movement towards criminalizing the actors supporting asylum seekers and refugees... I fear for the day this forces us to fall silent and retreat to save ourselves. Already we are walking on eggshells. Now, more than ever, models like accompaniment are needed to shift the paradigm of migration and the narrative we use to understand it.

I struggle every day to adequately communicate how deeply I care for my work... to tell the world how it’s possible to know a love so deep you would die for it. That is φιλότιμο. That is accompaniment. It means entangling fates. It means taking equal responsibility for the journey and the destination. I have already seen this model save countless lives as our intentional entanglement has made us aware of deep-seated issues that rapid assessments and top-down management of migration contexts would otherwise miss.

This International Migrants Day, I invite you to join us in walking alongside these affected populations for the entirety of the migratory pathway. Every single day I am humbled by their strength and ingenuity in the face of extreme adversity and it baffles me how anyone could possibly consider these individuals and communities to be the poor and huddled masses. It is my biggest wish for the rest of the world to see the displaced with the same lens I do: to see their capabilities rather than their vulnerabilities, to see their pride and joy instead of their suffering, and to see all the ways that we are the same rather than the ways we are different.

To the brothers and sisters I have met on this pathway, I thank you sincerely for allowing me to observe your journey. It is the biggest honor of my life to be your sister.

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