the refugee’s journey from their homeland to the United States
While each refugee’s journey and story is unique, there are common elements to many stories. By definition, all refugees have been persecuted or faced a well founded fear of persecution on the basis of their race, of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. They fled their homes because of who they are or what they believe in, often facing violence and danger along their flight to an uncertain and unknown future away from their homeland. Here are the common stages of a refugee’s journey as well as personal stories from refugees who have resettled to Minnesota.
Stage One: Homeland – Preflight Chaos: Before fleeing the country, refugees must watch the situation carefully as things deteriorate. During this stage they may face: increased harassment, violence, exposure to violence, deprivation of basic needs, fear and anxiety. [info about stages from Center for Victims of Torture]
“In the Democratic Republic of Congo, all of my family lives together in one small house. That way, if their village is attacked, they can flee all together. One day my brother was found dead on the road. He was going to fetch water. My family had to figure out who killed him to know if their lives were in immediate danger. This is how my family lives everyday. My country is so big they cannot easily reach the border to cross into another country. Second, they are not welcome in most of the bordering countries. There is nowhere safe for them to go. All their lives they live in fear.”
Stage Two: Travel – Flight: Before the situation gets worse, the refugee decides to leave their home. During their flight, they may encounter: difficult and dangerous travel, deprivation of food, sleep and shelter, the loss of family members or exploitation from hostile populations or criminal elements.
“The rebels were looking for my husband because he was an educated man. They came into my home asking for him. He was away for work and I did not want them to find him because I knew they would kill him. They tied me up and slashed my ankles with machetes but I would not tell them where he was. I don’t know why they didn’t kill me, but God spared me on that day. I took my children and fled the country because I knew they would come back. I never heard from my husband again. To this day, I don’t know what happened to him.”
“The army was burning villages left and right. We had been hiding in the jungle, but the army kept finding us and there was nowhere else to go. Fearing for my family’s safety, we fled across the border to Thailand and became refugees. Today, more than 30 years later, the same government is still in power in my home country.”
“The violence had been increasing in our area, but I had a house and a job so I did not want to have to leave. One morning while all of my children were at school and my oldest child was at the market the rebels entered our city and started shooting everyone and burning down the houses. I knew there was no more time to stay and I had to flee. My neighbors came running by, telling me I could not stay. I told them I would rather die than leave without even one of my children. I waited and prayed. Finally I saw one of my daughters running toward our home. I took her and we ran for hours, days, months… I did not know where the rest of my children were or if they were safe. It took me years to find all of my children, who were scattered in refugee camps, but I praise God that they are all alive.”
Stage Three: Asylum Country – ‘Temporary’ stay: Refugees seek safety in a second country. Often, they live in refugee camps & rely on foreign aid for their survival. They can stay for weeks, months, years or even decades with no permanent residency status, no right to work & limited access to education.
“Life in the refugee camp in Thailand is very hard. We are not welcome there and the soldiers take advantage of us because we have no legal status or rights. We want to return to our home country, but all the time new refugees arrive in the camp and bring news that the Burmese military is continuing to burn our villages and put landmines around so that we cannot go back. I didn’t know what would happen to my family or for how long we would have to stay in the camp. [Refugee camps are often referred to as “Human Warehousing.”] When the U.S. opened the chance for resettlement for us we praised God. Our camp was the first to get interviews. Some people said it was because the conditions in our camp were the worst, but we know that it is because we prayed the most.”