Happy Birthday Refugees!

Our friends in South Africa remembering the UNHCR selected “birthday” for the many refugees without documentation and/or a roman calendar controlled culture.


If you are someone who has worked with refugees, you know how many of them have this birth date, 01/01/___, listed on their documents. I can’t even guess how many students I’ve had over the years who needed to learn this date as well as the questions: What’s your birth date? When is your birthday? What’s your age? How old are you?

Some of them came from traditional cultures which did not emphasize hospital births or printed documents to verify identity. For others, the January 1st date hints at the chaotic conditions in the places they left; birth certificates and other documents were frequently destroyed or lost as they fled violence. It’s an easy solution of course, for international agencies processing people through a system that requires data – give them all January 1st and based on the information available make a good guess at the year.


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