Who are Refugees? — part 1

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Elena, a 14-year-old Honduran refugee fleeing gang and sexual violence in her country.

Elena, a 14-year-old Honduran refugee who fled to Mexico to escape gang and sex violence.

The new President’s executive order on immigration has provoked a lot of discussion about immigrants and refugees. In the midst of this, and to help us develop informed opinions, it is important that we remind ourselves who these refugees are.

ref*u*gee

a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.

The last post on this topic was about Syrian Refugees, and what we can do to help them. It was written a year and a half ago, right after 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi’s body washed up on a Turkish beach. A photo of him circulated in the press reminding the world of the atrocities that were occurring in the Middle East. That moment struck my husband and myself with particular force.

Why would people put their families onto a tiny boat, with such high chances of something going terribly wrong? What could possibly make fleeing under such conditions worthwhile? This recent video by the New York Times answers that question with glaring clarity. It follows 14-year-old Elena and her family, who have moved from Honduras to Mexico in search of safety.

“There are people who look down on you because you’re an immigrant. But they don’t know what we’re running from.”

—Elena, 14-year-old Honduran refugee

 
Elena’s story is just one, but refugees from other areas are no different. Many find themselves in limbo even after they successfully leave their country. Here is a video from the Vlog Brothers, outlining a visit to the Za’atari refugee camp in northern Jordan. It shows the challenge of those still living in refugee camps—kids yearning for an education, and families looking for a new future.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) shows that as of 2015 (the most current statistics available) there were 21.3 million refugees in the world. In that year, only 107,100 (.5% of the total) were resettled.

We must remember that we are just one political conflict or natural disaster away from finding ourselves in need of the world’s kindness—the kindness of strangers.

If you are still interested in learning more, here is a podcast from This American Life following refugees at a camp in Greece. The podcast is from August 2016, showing what daily life in limbo is like for refugees all over the world.

Read Who Are Refugees? — Part 2 here.

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