Who are refugees?

Refugees are ordinary people who have undergone extraordinary circumstances

Imagine that you awaken one day to find that you and your family are suddenly targeted as people who “don’t belong”. You are told that your kind is not welcome, that your beliefs are not right, that your ideals are illegal. Police begin to stop you on the street because you don’t have the right papers.  Family members have been jailed and beaten. You begin to hear rumors that neighbors have been killed.  Fearing for your safety, you escape across the border where you are suddenly part of a vast number of homeless people, depending upon others to give you food and shelter.  Years drag by as the situation in your home worsens and you realize you may never be able to return. Eventually, your only hope to look forward to is going to a foreign country willing to give you a chance to start over in freedom.

Many of us would like to think that such events are quite extraordinary—that they are points noted in the history books that do unfortunately occur but are surely unique and rare. In actuality, the refugee experience is a sadly common one. Millions of people in the world are displaced from their home due to conflict and persecution.  Of these, a minute fraction have the chance to resettle to a third country each year.

They may come from places like Bosnia or Burma, Somalia or Sudan, Cuba or Iraq.  They can be young or old, with large families or all alone, educated or illiterate.  They may have been farmers; they may have been doctors.  What they all have in common is that they arrive to a new country with very little of their own but the chance to start over again after having escaped years of fear and persecution. They must quickly begin to make a way of their own both socially and financially despite the unfamiliarity of their surroundings. The reality will always be that their lives and circumstance are now different and they must often struggle to adapt to the changes. 

Fortunately, the story does not end there.  I have seen many families take those very circumstances and make them a strength.  For perhaps the first time in years, these individuals have the opportunity and peace of mind to succeed.  The strength and courage that carried them through their most difficult experiences show in their work and eager progress.  They often take hold of the “American Dream” to better their lives for themselves and their families and yet maintain ties to their homes and traditions which enrich our community as a whole.

Refugees may be your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers, or the new strangers in town.  They are probably people who are learning and adapting to a new life, but they are also people who have much to offer as well.

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