Christopher Swain has been swimming up and down the East Coast for causes like clean water and human rights since 1996, and on Tuesday, he’s taking a dip in New York Harbor to raise awareness for World Refugee Day.
The United Nations General Assembly created World Refugee Day in 2000, and it has been observed on June 20 since 2001. This year seems more poignant than ever with more than 65 million people displaced around the world, creating the biggest refugee crisis since World War II, and President Donald Trump trying to ban travelers from mostly Muslim countries and refugees from entering the U.S.
Because of that, Swain, a member of the U.N. Association of the USA, will swim the two miles from the Statue of Liberty to Battery Park in the Financial District Tuesday afternoon. (Just last week, he swam 133 miles, the entire length of Long Island Sound and the East River, to call for a halt to sewage dumping in New York waterways.)
“As someone who is descended, in part, from Irish refugees who fled Ireland during the great famine of the mid-1900s, I feel a kinship with people who are leaving their homelands, through no choice of their own, in search of safety and security,” Swain told told Metro in an interview.
Metro: Compared to some of your other swims, this one is fairly short, but does that make it any less dangerous?
Christopher Swain: Swimming in New York Harbor is always tricky. As a swimmer you have to manage the demands of tides, current, wakes from passing boats and ships, recreational and commercial traffic, not to mention sewage bills and floating trash.
What sort of prep goes into a swim like this?
The notifications to the different agencies because I'm going to be swimming in the harbor are probably the most byzantine and confusing part of the whole thing. The fun part is being able to use the swim platform to reflect in some small way the arduous journeys over land and sea that refugees are taking every day.
What do you hope is the takeaway of Tuesday’s swim for World Refugee Day?
No one chooses to be a refugee. Everyone deserves safety, security and a place to call home. We need to remember our history: We are a nation composed of people who left difficult situations in search of something better. We shouldn't hide from our history by closing the door on others who are doing the same thing.
After this World Refugee Day swim, what is next for you?
I will look for ways to extend and expand my partnership with United Nations. I believe everyone on the planet has the same rights and the same dignity and deserves the same freedoms. Anything else is a recipe for conflict and division.