A refugee is a displaced person who has been forced to cross national boundaries because of violence or persecution. Their fears are related to race, religion, nationality or sexuality.
My parents fled Sudan for fear of ethnic and tribal cleansing from the Sudanese government. The word cleansing is a friendlier word for genocide. They lived in refugee camps such as Kakuma in Kenya for years before coming to the United States. We owe our lives to the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) for safely getting us to the United States, the Lutheran Family Services for settling us and Nebraska for welcoming us—but that welcome is not so warm anymore.
According to the UNHCR 2017 Global Trends Forced Displacement report, at the end of last year there was a cumulative total of 68.5 million forcibly displaced people worldwide. That is a record rate of 44,400 people every day of which 52 percent are children under the age of 18.
Before the war, my parents were prosperous farmers and pastors with six kids. When they were fleeing from the war, they had to look after many more children. We lost many families during these times, but we gained many more.
906,600 of the 68.5 million forcibly displaced people are Sudanese and 2.4 million are South Sudanese, according to the UNHCR. Out of 68.5 million refugees, only 102,800 were resettled. My aunts, uncles and cousins are a part of that number. They are still in Kakuma. It once was a refugee camp, but has since become a refugee city. As of June 2018, there are 147,168 people living in the Kakuma Refugee Camp. It is a “camp” almost as large as Des Moines, Iowa.
The probable causes and relevant history to the global refugee crisis are substantial — weak states that can’t support their people, corrupt states that have no care for their people, a weaker international political system and dangerous disparities over religion, political identity or ethnicity.
Vindictive political rhetoric’s will say that refugees are a burden on host states and entirely dependent on humanitarian assistance. That is a myth based on hate and irrational fears. Refugees are buyers of products and services in their host economies. Furthermore, refugees do not just wait passively for humanitarian or government aid–many go and find work or create work.
Since 2016, there has been a surge of discussions about banning refugees and actions have been taken. Remember the travel ban the Trump Administration created? Many Americans fear that refugees are not properly evaluated. The truth is, they are the most scrutinized and vetted individuals. Refugees undergo a series of interrogative interviews with the departments of defense, homeland security, FBI and all sponsoring NGO’s.
According to the US Citizen and Immigration Services, refugee applicants have the highest level of background and security checks of any category traveler in the United States. The word refugee is not synonymous with terrorist. It is imperative to not view them as such. They are not terrorists–they are people fleeing terror.
America reacted with compassionate humanity to the refugee crisis following World War II, the Vietnam conflict and the Cuban revolution. The Holocaust is not gas chambers and extermination camps anymore. It is chemical attacks on women and children, teenage girls being kidnapped from their boarding schools by militant Islamic groups, rape as a form of payment to soldiers and governments burning their own people in villages. It is a caravan of central American refugees fleeing persecution, poverty and gang violence. It is our American troops throwing tear gas at children at the U.S.-Mexico border.
When we send those refugees back to the countries they are fleeing, they go back to die. Yet, the president still wants to send them back. Instead of turning our backs on this humanitarian crisis, we should listen to the uncomfortable echoes of history.
The Holocaust Encyclopedia reminds us that, “On May 13, 1939, 935 German Jews came to America on a boat called the St. Louis.” The ship was sent back by the U.S. administration at that time. We sent them back to die. Let us not repeat history, let us welcome them.
My parents went from the Kakuma Refugee Camp, to the Projects in South Omaha, to now owning their own home just outside of Benson. Nebraska made that happen. In return, my family has two members serving in separate branches of the United States Armed Forces, we’ve accumulated many masters and bachelor’s degrees, and two more members are working towards becoming registered nurses in the Omaha area.
Don’t give into vengeful political rhetoric. Invest in refugees and you will see it back ten-fold. Call out politicians ignoring and contributing to this covert holocaust. Vote for politicians who have true American compassion and humanity because at the end of the day, we are living on borrowed land.