Seeing Through the Eyes and Stories of Refugees
Re-posted from a blog post
Every year, millions of men, women, children, families are caught in a crossfire of political conflicts, war, and violence in many countries like Syria, Yemen, and Afghanistan. According to UNHCR, there were about 68 million people forced to leave their homes and countries due to violence, conflict, and persecution by the end of 2017. With such disturbing numbers, it puts a spotlight on how we, as individuals and a country, deal with refugees who have been marginalized and displaced.
Selin Nielsen, co-founder of Glocally Connected in Southern California, shared her experiences working with helping refugees. She and co-founder Sherry MacKay established various programs for refugees, such as English classes, transportation assistance, and childcare, that help them adapt and connect with the community. With a background in education and specialty in International Migration, she has worked tirelessly on raising awareness on the plight of refugees and the process of integrating them to their new culture and environment. “The goal when we started working with refugees is social integration, connecting them to the new society they live in, and overcoming discrimination,” Selin shared.
Discrimination, due to common misconceptions, is one of the biggest challenges among refugees. “Oftentimes, we think of refugees as dangerous and unskilled people. The reality is these are simply people who didn’t have a choice but to leave their country because their lives and the welfare of their families are at risk. As a matter of fact, they go through rigorous security clearances, with the whole process taking up 1–2 years,” Selin explained.
From the time of visa application up to their destination in another country, refugees are caught in a predicament of how to assimilate and start a new life. “Language barrier is a big issue for them, especially for women who don’t speak English. Upon their arrival, they are given 3 months to learn the language, find job, find schools for their kids, and go through health screenings. It’s such a short time to accomplish all these things”, Selin underlined.
Fariba is one of the refugees who fortunately escaped danger in Afghanistan. Due to her active involvement in education, human rights and women empowerment in her home country, her life and her family’s welfare were put at risk. “I would receive phone calls threatening they would kidnap me and my daughters,” Fariba recalled. Few years ago, she and her family successfully relocated to the United States. The decision to relocate wasn’t easy. “When you’re an advocate for human rights and women in Afghanistan, your life is on the line. Women need me to work with them, but it’s also important for me to protect my life and my family’s. It was a difficult decision to make coming here…,” she shared.
Moreover, adjusting to the new life in the United States also posed challenges. “My English wasn’t good but I can speak, read, and write a little bit. Even though I had a law degree, it was hard for me to find a job. Back in my home country, they destroyed schools. So, with me starting over here, I intend to go back to school, get educated, and finish my degree,” Fariba said.
With the help of Glocally Connected, she managed to go back to school and enroll her children. Fariba’s husband found a professional job through the generosity of Selim Yildiz who runs a company. “I don’t really consider them as refugees because these are individuals with work permits, who can legally work in the country,” Selim underlined. Having hired four refugees for his company, Selim had nothing but remarkable comments. “Language barrier was their biggest challenge at first, but they found a way to overcome it. These are some of the most hardworking people, with engineering and legal backgrounds, that I’ve ever had. Beyond their professional skills and experiences, Selim recognized the resilience and gratitude they have that are reflected on their work ethics. “Their work ethic is incredible. It doesn’t matter what background they come in, they take the job, they work hard, they’re very grateful.”
Norette, a volunteer for Glocally Connected, also shared similar positive remarks on her experience helping with the refugees. With her background in special education, she took active participation teaching English to women and assisting them with transportation. “It was such a wonderful experience helping these individuals, learning what they had to go through to get here. Ultimately, they just want safety for their families,” Norette shared.