September 2nd

When I listened to Lauryn Hill in college on repeat for two years (seriously, ask Finny how silly obsessed I was with that album), I never thought 10 years later I’d be working with actual refugees. There is a lot of confusion about refugees in America and I am new to this field. Here’s what I’ve recently learned:

~ A refugee is someone living outside of his or her home country and is unwilling or unable to return due to a well-founded fear of persecution. This could be because of race, religion, nationality, membership of a social group, political opinion, etc.
A current example are the Sudanese lfrom Darfur who are fleeing to camps in Chad and Kenya to escape persecution. The Janjaweed Arabs of the north are committing active genocide against the African tribal folk of the south. (I am over-simplifying a mass migration of people, but you get the idea.)

~A evacuee is not a refugee. An evacuee is someone who has been evacuated. Simple enough, right? You can imagine the confusion when after Katrina political leaders started referring to evacuees as refugees. No dice. Evacuees who were born in the US could not be refugees. Make sense?

~An immigrant is a person who has moved to a second country by will or through refugee status. Refugees are therefore immigrants. Immigrants are rarely refugees. Only 1% of refugees living in refugee camps around the world make it to a third-country, such as the United States, for immigration.

~ An illegal immigrant is a person who has moved to a second country without the permission of authorities in the second country.

~ An asylee is a refugee who reaches another country through their own devices. For example, Cubans who reach the shores of the US are asylees. They are able to seek asylum in the United States. Another example is Martina Navratilova, who requested political asylum from her home country of Czechoslovakia. She later became a US citizen.

Refugees are brought to the United States from dozens of countries. In Arizona, there are refugees from more than 90 countries. How do these refugees get here? The United Nations High Commission for Refugees asked a dozen or so countries to help with the 12 million refugees worldwide; 80% of these are women and children. Most of the men die during the conflict that led their families to flee. Some 70% of these families live at least 10 years in refugee camps, outside of their native countries.

The Refugee Act of 1980 created specific US funding to help aid those fleeing persecution. Before then, refugees were handled on a case-by-case basis. Considering how many people from Eastern Europe immigrated as refugees after the World Wars, it is surprising it took until 1980 to pass formalized legislation and funding. The cap on refugees accepted into the US each year is 70,000. In 2007, 41,000 refugees were resettled.

The process is entirely political. There are countries we would gladly accept refugees from — think North Korea and Iran. There are countries were the trickle of folk come in, but it isn’t as politically glorifying — think Africa. In Arizona, our largest current refugee populations are coming from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Bhutan and Burma.

I’ll cover the life of a typical refugee family resettled in Arizona in the future. And yes, I am loving this job.


Posted in
Arizona, Community, Journal, Public Health
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12 Responses

  1. Wow, well said! I now feel ejumacted on the subject. 😉

    But really, that’s interesting information I didn’t know before. Thanks for posting it! It sounds like your new job is keeping you busy.

  2. Very interesting. Glad you’re loving the new job.

  3. Good stuff, Kelli. Also glad to hear how much you love your work. It’s interesting to me where refugees end up in the US. In my area, there is a HUGE Hmong refugee population. Thanks for sharing your knowledge!

  4. Interesting. I did not know some of the stuff. You were meant to change the world!

    Some cool Frida-ness:

  5. Very interesting, thanks for sharing all of that. Like everyone else, I am glad that you enjoy your job so much.

  6. Great post – I’m finally getting close to finishing What is the What (on your recommendation), so this was very timely for me.

  7. My best friend was the same way with Lauryn Hill in Highschool (I can still quote her lyrics).

    I can’t believe the jobs you get. It must be fun to learn something every day.

  8. Very educational post. Thanks.

  9. Just reading the book you recommended “What is the What”………….

  10. Thanks for the information. I’m looking forward to learning more!

  11. Australia has quite the immigrant and refugee population. Although many people view Australia as welcoming and accepting to all, a part of our history of which I am not proud of is the White Australia Policy. Which from 1901 to 1973 restricted the immigration of “non-white” peoples. Can you imagine? I can’t believe it took until 1973 to abolish it!

  12. I did not know the proper difference of refugee and asylee until I read this post. You must love your job so much! We have a large population of both here and to be honest as silly as it sounds I’ve accidentally given them my own definition which is “some of the strongest people I’ve ever seen.” I always feel privileged when they smile back at me especially if they have a baby to show off.