Refugees Are Not Immigrants
I have had the amazing opportunity to work with Burmese refugees for the past three years. The military junta inflicted violence and torture on various ethnic groups in Burma, and an unidentified percentage of the local Burmese community were political prisoners in their home country, victims of human trafficking, and forced into hard labor. I work with a family that includes a fifth-grade girl, a fourth-grade boy and a first-grade boy. The youngest boy was the only one born in the United States. None of the children read at the level that correlates with their grade level. They live with their parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, on the second floor of a house that is rented out to multiple families. There is no furniture in their house. The family eats a simple meal of rice and vegetables on the floor. Their next-door neighbors, also a Burmese refugee family, was robbed of 3 Ipads. Their parents do not speak English but are expected to communicate on a day to day basis. Does this sound like an easy life?
About 85,000 refugees were admitted into the United States last year per Pew Research Center. Violence has forced about 60 million people from their homes. The Syrian Refugee Crisis is the most recent to do so. The small number of refugees the United States admits does not even make a dent in the refugee crisis overall, but to those 85,000 refugees, admittance into the United States saves their lives. Refugees have rights. We all have rights. We all have the SAME rights because we are all HUMAN BEINGS with HUMAN DIGNITY. We need to learn from the past. The current refugee crisis has reached the highest level since World War II. We have a chance to create some positive change by getting to know these refugees that we hear about every day. I challenge each person who reads this to meet a refugee, from any country, and have a conversation with them. This issue is hard to ignore when you have skin in the game, when you make personal connections and humanize and dehumanizing situation.
Alexandria Iwanenko is a senior at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY. She is an International Relations major with a minor in Peace and Justice Studies. Upon graduation, she plans to complete a year of service, working with refugees and asylum seekers in the United States. Alexandria has worked with refugees in the local community and has dedicated her spare time fighting for their rights. She has interned with the Summer Institute of Buffalo for Human Rights and Genocide Studies and wrote her thesis on Children’s Rights according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
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