CAF America Insider Blog

The Present: Exploring the Experiences of Refugees Across the Globe (Part 2)

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Posted by Thelmany Khieu on June 16, 2014.


World Refugee Day is held every year on June 20. It is a special day when the world takes time to recognize the resilience of forcibly displaced people throughout the world. This is a three part series written to celebrate and learn more about the “Past, Present, and Future” of refugees worldwide.

Part 1– The Past Part 2 — The Present Part 3 — The Future

The Present
by Thelmany Khieu

Refugees are a very real and current topic of discussion today. Although their stories may lack significant coverage in the press, the reality is that many individuals continue to leave the only home they ever knew to travel to different countries in hopes of asylum. Every individual has a story, and there are many organizations who offer support for these refugees.

According to the U.S. Department of State, West Africa, Serbia, Pakistan, Nepal, Kenya and Thailand are all current examples of protracted refugee situations. When 25,000+ people from the same country seek asylum or refugee in another country for five consecutive years, it is considered a protracted refugee situation. Liberians are involved in a civil war with over 700,000 displaced individuals. More than 15 years after being resettled to Serbia, Croatian and Bosnian individuals still remain displaced.1

I spoke to one woman (“T.O.”) who works with individuals as Job Developer for a Refugee and Immigrant Service Provider based in Washington, D.C. who provided the perspective below.

Thelmany: Can you give an example of a person you’ve personally dealt with who has inspired you or particularly touched you?
T.O.: I can’t think of just one, but each refugee and asylee has his or her own unique story and when it is shared with me, it feels like I am really able to understand how they think and what his or her goals are in life. A lot of the young men and women that come here on their own really inspire me, maybe because I feel as though they are my peers and when I think about moving to a new country and starting all over, I really find it amazing how brave they are.

Thelmany: Where are these refugees from?
T.O.: A lot of the refugees in Northern Virginia are from Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan right now. Because of US relations abroad, it makes sense. We’re expecting even more. In the next few years I would predict more Congolese and Syrian refugees.

Thelmany: What would you say the age range is?
T.O.: All ages honestly – from Iraq they come more as families where as Afghanistan and Iran we’re seeing a lot more adult youth and parents of young children. The women are usually very young – in their early 20s.

Thelmany: What is a common misconception about refugees?
T.O.: Instability in government and especially between religious and ethnic groups in the Middle East and North/East Africa are pushing a lot of people out of their homes, but this type of struggle is being experienced all over the world. It’s just that the largest number are coming from that area at this time. The media attention is also helping a lot to reveal it. Refugees come from all backgrounds (economic and education)– a lot of people I’ve met hold Bachelors/Masters/Doctorates in a specific field, and it’s really hard for them to start their careers all over again. Some of them get a chance to work a job of their choice, but a lot end up doing service jobs in order to support their families.

Thelmany: What advice do you have for someone who wants to help? In what different outlets and forms can people help?
T.O.: If you’re willing to help, there is always a way to do that. Contact a resettlement agency in your area and find out what its initiatives are. You can help a refugee family transition in so many ways like mentoring, volunteering your time to practice English with them or help them navigate the health system which can be very complicated, taking them to an important appointment, or helping them to register their kids for school. In general, investing in their success in one way or another.

1 The U.S. Department of State



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