Earlier this year, I became one of the founding members of Amnesty International's LA Chapter. I know it's hard to believe there wasn't one before, but that's the truth. As a group, we decided to focus on women's and refugees' issues. From there, to help refugees in our community, we became involved in helping resettle those who have been granted resettlement in LA. This process has opened up my eyes to things I never thought about--things many of us have never thought about. What happens when a refugee gets resettled?
Over the last several years, there has been a lot of tension dealing with refugees, and many countries have become closed off to welcoming refugees. It was just announced the United States plans to only allow 18,000 to resettle in 2020. That is down from 30,000 in 2019, already the lowest number in history, and down from 110,000 during the previous administration. The United States used to be the leader in resettling refugees, but now is turning its back on human rights.
Whether you're for or against helping refugees, I think one thing we all have in common is a lack of understanding as to what these families go through, not just in trying to gain resettlement, but what happens afterwards. There is still a lot I am learning, but from my experiences, I thought I would share some insights.
1. It can take many years after approval is granted to be resettled.
This was the first major eye opener I learned. The resettlement process takes six to several years to begin with. When we were told that resettlement could take eight or nine years, sometimes even twenty, our jaws dropped. This is after they have been granted resettlement. Sometimes it's a matter of being able to save the money they need to actually resettle, or buy plane tickets if they need to fly from another country. Many are loaned the funds to resettle, but must pay back the cost of resettlement within 6 months.
Have you ever thought about where refugees live when they arrive? Refugees don't typically arrive with a lot of money, as you can imagine. As soon as they are granted resettlement, they are paired with an immigration resettlement agency to help them find housing among numerous other logistics that need to be taken care of. They often move into temporary housing, before finding more permanent residence. The agencies provide bedding, but otherwise, the families rely heavily on donations.
3. Help with getting to various appointments.
Many of these agencies that facilitate resettlement also rely on volunteers for airport pick-ups and transportation to their temporary homes, visits to the social security office so that they can start working, and even doctors appointments. I never thought about things as simple as needing to go to the doctor's to make sure they have their basic health check-ups and immunizations. And often times these appointments can take all day, which is also an incredibly generous commitment on the part of volunteers who offer to drive families around to their various appointments.
4. Going to school and work.
Many refugees arrive knowing little to no English, so adults will attend English language classes or rely on the help of volunteers to help teach English while also learning on the go. Kids that arrive are thrown into school and must also learn as they go and hopefully have the benefit of ESL classes to help them out. While kids tend to pick up languages quickly, it can still be daunting for both kids and adults who suddenly need to learn a new language in order to survive. And it's more than just learning a new language, it's also learning new customs and getting used to things you may not be accustomed to.
5. Hospitality and companionship is the least we can provide.
I can't imagine being forced to leave my home and build a life in another country where I don't know the customs or language. Something I have learned is that even just the simple act of welcoming families at the airport, and uniting them with family if they have family here in there new home, makes a huge difference. One of the most beautiful experiences I have ever had, was welcoming a family at the airport and seeing them reunited with other family members who had arrived a few months earlier. If you missed that post, you can read about it here. Having companionship and feeling like they are welcome in this new country that they need to get used to now I think humanizes the experience for both them and us. I can imagine how alienating it may feel at times, and even helpless, when your life depends on the generosity of others. But for the most part, I've only seen refugees turn around and not only lift themselves and their families up, but also give back to their community.
A lot of times I feel helpless in these situations, as I'm sure many of us feel. But my experiences have shown me that even the smallest acts of kindness and hospitality make a big difference. When people come to my home, I want them to feel welcome. I want them to feel at home. In LA, we are a home of many colors and everyone should feel welcome. I had the good fortune of being able to invite some of the family I recently helped welcome to LA to a special evening at the LAFC game, and it couldn't have been more perfect. LAFC is a beautifully diverse team of people from different backgrounds and faiths, the stadium, and the whole atmosphere reflected that, and it was a perfect reflection of our city, and the country I know we are.
If you're interested in helping with refugee resettlement efforts, feel free to reach out. You can also check with your nearest refugee resettlement agency.
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