To Live Like a Refugee

I try not to have, or at least express, divisive opinions on public forums like this, or any social media, but this is something I feel so strongly about, I can no longer keep quiet.

This past weekend, my church had a “winter party.” Named thus because we couldn’t call it a Christmas party because of all the Muslims we had there as our guests. Muslims from all over a very specific area of the world: Africa and the Middle East. They were all refugees.

My church leaders feel just as strongly as I do about refugees, and in my particular congregation, we have the blessing and opportunity of working with refugees regularly. Every month we spend one evening at a refugee center in Salt Lake playing with the refugee children. At this winter party, we got to get to know refugees who were all in college.

Most of them were going for a graduate degree.

In nursing. In social work. In ophthalmology. In audiology.

They told us their stories. How they grew up completely accustomed walking past dead bodies in the street. How their fathers were kidnapped and tortured. How they lived the first fifteen years of their life in a refugee camp, in a tent, in a foreign country. How their governments oppressed them based on race, the shape of their noses, or a hairline difference in religious beliefs. How their governments ruthlessly killed thousands of their people. And how there is nothing they want more than to go back to their countries, free the rest of their families, and help their homelands find peace.

And they all expressed overwhelming, word-defying gratitude to come to America, the land of freedom, the land of opportunity, where they were safer than they ever imagined possible, where they could receive a formal education for the first time in their lives: something the rest of their friends and family could never even dream of. They were all willing to sacrifice anything, to work themselves to the bone, to get as much of the best education possible.

I can’t help but wonder why, how, there are people in this country who are opposed to letting these refugees in. These are people whose livelihoods have been robbed from them. They literally are forced from their homes and absolutely cannot go back to their countries in the forseeable future. They have suffered the realities of terrorism every day of their lives. They are not the stigma of sneaky illegal immigrants that come here to undermine our system and workforce. They have had everything taken from them in their homeland, and this is their only chance at rebuilding a normal life.

I am a product of refugees. In fact, I am a product of the only refugees who actually brought significant harm to the population that was already living here. If you’re a white, born-and-bred American, there’s a pretty high chance you are the product of refugees, too.

The principles on which this country was founded demand that we offer help and opportunity to all those who seek it at our shores. If you think that denying refugees entry to our country is protecting American ideals, you are dead wrong.

(P.S. Even if you are wrong, that doesn’t make you stupid, a bad person, or worthless. It just makes me sad for you.)

The refugees with whom I have associated are more productive and contributing as members of society than most of the Americans I know. I honestly think we need them more than they need us.

I understand a fear of the unknown is prone to grip the hearts of our nation, especially when tragedies are occurring almost weekly. I implore you, if this is your fear, to make the unknown known. You would never want someone to bar the progress and opportunities of your best friend, your sibling, your child. Get to know a living, breathing refugee, and if you don’t end up feeling the same way about them, then there’s nothing else for me to say to you.

Many of these refugees live in 1-2 bedroom apartments packed with 12 people and infested with insects. And yet this is still vastly preferable to what they left behind.

The picture I used above is from the film The Good Lie. If you haven’t seen it and you are on the fence about refugees, I strongly encourage you to seek it out and watch it. It depicts what I have come to know is a fairly typical story for refugees. These people are just that: people. Human beings, and as such, deserve just as much of a chance at living a peaceable life as any of the rest of us, regardless of religion or where we were born.


2 responses to “To Live Like a Refugee

  1. Interesting. I was not aware there were so many refugees in the Salt Lake area. I agree with you 100%.

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