Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What is a Refugee?

So I’m down here in Clarkston working with refugees this summer, but I haven’t really explained yet what a refugee actually is. Refugees are people who have fled their home country to a second country and then have been resettled into a third country aka, the US. Refugees CANNOT return to their home country for fear of persecution because of race, religion, group, or political opinion.

There are about 15 million refugees in the world (not to mention the millions of people displaced inside their countries) but only 1% of them get resettled every year. When they flee their home country into the second country, most refugees have to live in a refugee camp, as they are in the second country illegally. For example, refugees from Burma flee over the border into Thailand. Because they have a legitimate reason to fear for their lives, usually Thailand doesn’t send them back to Burma; still, Thailand cannot logistically or economically handle the massive flow of refugees into their country. So the refugees are rounded up and put into enclosed camps, which have terrible living conditions. Most refugees die within the camps; because so few are resettled, they live and die there, especially as starvation and disease are prevalent.

The lucky few who are resettled by the UNHCR are put on a plane to the third country (the US), and given a case worker for the first 3 months. They get $900 per person to pay for everything during this time, rent, furniture, food, clothing, utilities, public transportation, everything. Not only this, but after 3 months, the refugees have to pay back the government for their plane ticket to the US. Then after the first 3 months, their case worker moves on to the new refugees and they are one their own; this is extremely overwhelming for them, especially for those who cannot speak English.

Imagine having to learn absolutely everything about life in the US in 3 months without speaking a word of English. Many of the refugees who come in from the camps have never seen running water, an air conditioner, or even a door that locks. They have to learn how to get around, how to get a job, how to pay rent. Frequently, refugees start fires on their kitchen floor in an attempt to cook their food; they have never seen a stove or oven before. This is the kind of environment you find in Clarkston; there is incredible need here relationally, spiritually, and financially. Still, there is also incredible opportunity to show these people the love of Jesus by meeting their needs and simply being their friend. So that’s a little taste of what it would be like to be a refugee. If you all could just pray for the people of Clarkston with us, that would be awesome!

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