What it means to be displaced in Oroville, CA and beyond

What it means to be displaced in Oroville, CA and beyond


I listened to a story on NPR yesterday about the 200,000 residents of Oroville, California who were displaced due to fears that a spillway at the state’s 2nd largest reservoir could fail. Under threat of catastrophic flood, thousands of families had as little as an hour to evacuate and move to higher ground. Many of these displaced people fled to hotels or the homes of friends and family who lived outside the flood zone. Many Oroville residents had nowhere else to go so they sought refuge in towns with evacuation centers 30 miles away.

A reporter asked a few people staying at an evacuation shelter how soon they’d be able to go home, but no one knew for sure.  Would it be days? Weeks?  They were lucky that a neighboring town opened its doors, welcomed them in and gave them beds, water, food and shelter, but they were starting to worry. If they couldn't go home soon, how were they going to work? How would they make a living?  How would their children go to school? Later in the day they got word they could return home.  But fears remained that they would soon be displaced again, facing these same questions.  

I realized this is just a tiny inkling of how Syrian refugees must have felt when they first became displaced.  Under siege and running for their lives, they fled to neighboring countries like Jordan and Turkey. Some have eventually made it to countries that welcomed them overseas, including the United States.  Many more have not.  

The horror these families are facing began almost six years ago. They’re desperate for the same things as the displaced Oroville residents – beds, water, food and refuge, plus answers to a few hard questions:  How will they work?  How will their children go to school?  How will they survive?

Right now, the world is facing the worst displacement crisis in history. 65 million people worldwide have been forced to flee their homes because of persecution, war, or violence. 

Where are they from, besides Syria?  They’re also from places like South Sudan and Yemen where droughts and floods don’t just mean temporary displacement, like in California, but starvation.  

California’s evacuees are already returning home.  And if they must leave again, they will almost certainly return again.  The dam will be fixed and support services will once again be made available to prevent the most vulnerable from starving or freezing. But what if this crisis were to drag on for months or years? What if there were no support services?  How long could small neighboring communities provide support?  How many jobs could they provide?  How many children could they educate?  How much healthcare could they offer?  The economic impact on host communities and countries from absorbing 65 million displaced persons is staggering and unless they receive support from the greater community, it is unsustainable and potentially catastrophic.  

CARE is part of that greater community.  We’ve provided development and humanitarian assistance to refugees and displaced persons around the world for more than 70 years.  We’re relieved that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the suspension of President Trump’s executive order on immigration, because the United States is part of that greater community too.  It’s our responsibility, our moral obligation and in our best national and global security interests that we give refugees the protection and life-saving services they need. 

We are pleased that, at least for now, America will continue to welcome people who seek our refuge.  We’re deeply concerned though about the future of humanitarian and foreign assistance.  We’re counting on strong citizen advocacy to let government leaders know that we will not abandon those who need American support the most.  

To highlight this commitment, CARE and CARE Action have launched the #BetterThanTheBan campaign. We’re asking supporters to share our video and then share your own support for refugees on social media.  Tell us why you agree that Americans are #BetterThanTheBan.  Then, sign and share our petition that asks legislators to stand with us in solidarity with refugees. We will only remain a beacon of hope if we all stand up together. Join us!

Rachael Leman

Executive Director

CARE Action

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