Refugees, evacuees — or detainees?

Last week Jesse Jackson argued that we should speak of Katrina’s victims as “evacuees” rather than “refugees,” because the term “refugee” is racist.* Al Sharpton agrees, and Bush has announced his support for the switch, but at least one Cajun has gotten into a yelling match on the subject, and the Sydney Morning Herald observes, “Americans are not refugees. Apparently refugees are people you see on television in foreign countries.”

Today an aid volunteer posts a chilling report about conditions in an Oklahoma “shelter” where 500 people uprooted by the storm are seeking refuge. She offers a new take on the “refugee”/”evacuee” debate:

Jesse Jackson was right when he said “refugees” was not the appropriate word for the poor souls dislocated due to Katrina. But he was wrong about why it is not appropriate. It’s not appropriate because they are detainees, not refugees….

We then started lugging in our food products. The foods I had purchased were mainly snacks, but my mother – God bless her soul – had gone all out with fresh vegetables, fruits, canned goods, breakfast cereals, rice, and pancake fixings. That’s when we got the next message: They will not be able to use the kitchen….

[The FEMA “host”] then [proceeds] to tell us that some churches had already enquired into whether they could send a van or bus on Sundays to pick up any occupants of their cabins who might be interested in attending church. FEMA will not allow this. The occupants of the camp cannot leave the camp for any reason. If they leave the camp they may never return. They will be issued FEMA identification cards and “a sum of money” and they will remain within the camp for the next 5 months.

My son looks at me and mumbles “Welcome to Krakow.”

An insightful Boing Boing reader compares the Oklahoma situation to Rex-84. Let’s get that radio station into the Astrodome, pronto.

*In Miami, in the aftermath of the Mariel Boatlift, the word “refugee” became an epithet hurled at Latino children, often by other Latinos, on playgrounds and in lunchrooms. I wonder how South Florida’s Cuban community is reacting to Jackson’s remarks.


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