Refugee Facts & Resources

Office of resettlement

I thought it would be helpful to compile resources here for those of you who are looking to know more about resettlement and how the refugee process works. The resources are a mixture of those found in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, and New Zealand.

Refugee Information:

How to Help: 

  • Make Refugee Kits! Family and Infant Refugee Kits I cannot stress enough how useful these kits are. We have taken over 100 to Iraq and Turkey and sent even more. It’s an excellent Christmas project. I reached out to the folks at Medical Teams and here is what they said:“Thank you so much for your email – and your support for our mission. We will gladly accept shipments at our Tigard Oregon Distribution Center – 14150 SW Milton Court, Tigard OR 97224. Again, thank you for your interest in our project – We are so touched by the kindness and compassion from people around the US!”
  • Conscience International
  • International Orthodox Christian Charities
  • Heart for Lebanon

Note: I purposely did not put in the typical large organizations, namely because I think it’s easier to know where your money goes with the smaller organizations. I can absolutely vouch for the low overhead of these organizations as well as seeing in person the work that is being done with refugees.

Helpful Articles: 

Why You Should Care: 

In closing, I want to say this: there’s an acronym in social media “smdh.” It stands for “shaking my damn head.” As I see the reaction to refugees by fellow Christians as evidenced by statements by Christian leaders, I am literally shaking my damn head. I don’t get it.  We have made refugees the scapegoats for egregious, condemnable acts of violenceSo I issue three challenges:

A Call to Pray: “In the midst of tragedy, I am called to pray. Called to pray to a God who hears and loves, a God who is present in tragedy and accepts our “why’s”, a God who knows no national boundaries or citizenship, a God who took on our human pain and suffering when he ‘willingly endured the cross’.” [from In the Midst of Tragedy, A Call to Pray.]

A Call to Walk Away from Fear: I’m going to repeat what I have said publicly three times this week. Don’t make safety an idol. Choose to walk away from fear. Choose to love as you are loved; choose to offer your heart and your resources to those in need.

A Call to Love: Governments may do their thing, they may close their doors; as a Christian, I don’t have that option.  Period.

 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Luke 6: 26-31


Purchase Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging and all proceeds will go toward Syrian and Iraqi refugees and displaced people! 

no to refugees
Photograph courtesy of Ed Brown

To Iraq


The text came on an Ecclesiastical day – a day when I was despairing that there was nothing new under the sun. Especially nothing new in my immediate vicinity.

And then came the text: “How would you like to go to Iraq? Call me!”

It was from my husband. I called – immediately. The organization that he volunteers for was putting together a small team to go work with internally displaced people in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq. The president hoped to take a doctor, but after two doctors said yes and then had to back out for personal reasons, he decided to ask me. Timing was critical as he was purchasing the tickets that night.

I took a look at my schedule, rearranged one thing, and breathed a deep sigh. I was going to Iraq. As many who read CAB know, my heart has been across the world with refugees and displaced people from Syria and Iraq for a long time. In November, I was able to go to Turkey and since that time I’ve longed to go again. In fact, my husband and I have prayed long and sought hard to work with refugees full time, so the trip is a gift from God. To make it even better, my husband will be joining me a day later so we will be able to ask questions, find out what needs are, and do what we can during the short time we are there.

It will be a quick trip and include working at a clinic and visiting camps for internally displaced people. Last June, ISIS captured the city of Mosul – the site of the ancient city of Nineveh, best know from the Biblical story of Jonah. Chaldeans, Assyrians, Syrian Orthodox and more all lived and worshiped in this city. That changed when they were forced out of homes and communities, fleeing to nearby cities and towns. Erbil, as the largest city in the area, received many refugees. The churches in Erbil made room for thousands of displaced people, housing them wherever they could find room.

It’s a year later, but the crisis continues despite the world moving on. The figures are staggering in their magnitude. UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) estimates over 3.5 million internally displaced people. Added to that are Syrian refugees who have made their way into Iraq. I can’t get my head around the figures. Take a look here to see more: UNHCR – Iraq

So we are going and it feels like even less than five loaves and two fishes – but then, that’s all most of us have. It’s barely a band-aid. But my friend Rachel says this, and I’ve quoted it before but it’s worth repeating:

It is small. And you are just one person. But a mustard seed is small. That’s the way of the Kingdom. May we always delight in being part of small things.” 

For those who pray, I would ask for prayers for this trip, but more so – for the internally displaced people and refugees in the area. I go for a week – they live there all the time. Also, if you would like to give to the clinic or to the camps in Erbil, click here. You can designate the funds specifically for Iraq. The trip is paid for, every bit of money goes toward the clinic and camps. Your gift is tax-deductible. 

“We Speak the Language of Elsewhere”

passport with quote

“A janitor is sweeping the courtyard. He’s a dark shade of sunny……So I go to Azibo, the janitor. He’s old and I’m young, but we both speak the language of elsewhere. We become buddies.” No Shade Under the Sun by Valerie Wilson


I stand in a crowded subway, pinned in on all sides. My eyes sweep the crowd, silent observer of those around me. I’m looking for those who may speak the “language of elsewhere.” It almost becomes a private game as I try to guess who else speaks this language. The young mom who didn’t know how to get on the subway and so was impatiently jostled – she speaks the language of elsewhere. The two students who are chatting in staccato German? They speak the language of elsewhere. And the women in hijab? She too speaks this language. There are others, but most of us are silent. Afraid that there will not be interpreters for elsewhere, that elsewhere is too vague and abstract to be interpreted properly. But for us, it is neither vague nor abstract – it is real.

When you grow up between worlds you speak the language of other, the language of elsewhere. While your appearance may say one thing, your inner life, should it be revealed, would say something completely different.

Loneliness floods over me – tsunami like in its strength. How could I possibly look and talk like so many around me yet feel this alone? And yet what prevents me from reaching out to those who also know this language, those who also experience the deep loneliness that is ‘other’.

The subway stops and I am birthed with the crowds onto the platform. I head home along a street that feels both familiar and foreign to me. I pass by houses that I’ve passed many times in the six plus years we have lived here. I pass by some people that I recognize but who I don’t know. I come to the Village Grill, the small neighborhood restaurant owned by Teddy, though we call him Theo. I stop and chat – he is a fixture in this neighborhood, as solid as the street lamps lining the side of the road. He’s Greek and proud of it. For a short time I belong.


Every September the streets of Cambridge and Boston fill with people who speak the language of elsewhere. They may be undergrad students, they may be those with fellowships, they may be visiting professors, they may be immigrants newly arrived, they may be refugees, finally settled after years of trying to get paperwork in order, or they may be third culture kids, those whose looks belie who they are on the inside, what their life experience has held thus far. There are all kinds of reasons but the language is the same. They are ‘other’. And initially life can overwhelm and threaten to undo them.

It’s not only Boston. It’s the streets of Atlanta, Seattle, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Miami, and so many more. It’s the expat communities in Cairo, Shanghai, Bangkok, and Phnom Penh. 

And to bridge this divide, this chasm of elsewhere, this block in language understanding it is imperative to reach across and learn to speak the language of elsewhere.

It’s not that hard. There’s no grammar or syntax involved and there is no morphology. Prefixes, suffixes, or infixes are absent. You don’t have to worry about past tense, or present perfect or superlatives.

But there is a lexicon. It includes tea, coffee, talk, meals, reaching out, asking questions, sometimes shopping, most of all – time. Time – that precious commodity that we think we have so little of until work ends, retirement begins, and suddenly we have all the time in the world.

All of us have spoken the language of elsewhere at some point – whether as a tourist or as a resident. And it starts out fun – it’s exciting! Everything is new and different. And then day 11 of our journey comes and it’s no longer exciting. Instead, everything is different and different is no longer good. Different is hard. Different means I don’t know the rules. Different means me and the stranger both wear shoes, but I wear them better. Different is lonely.

Into the lonely steps the one who has experienced this language before. There to lend a hand, an ear, even a shoulder to cry on. So this fall, if you’ve ever spoken the language of elsewhere – look around you and seek out those who are other, who share this language. It’s the only way to bridge the divide. 

Trauma Thieves


“I don’t like sharing my story with Americans. They cry and then I have to comfort them” from Rwandan refugee at refugee health conference 

Last week I attended one day of the three-day North American Refugee Health Conference in Rochester, New York. I scribbled my notes everywhere: on the back of the program, in a small note-book, and on the courtesy pad of paper given by the host hotel. There was so much to learn and I am a novice. And I heard stories, and more stories. Case studies of impossible situations and discussions with those who are far more advanced in this work.

But the statement above, heard at the conference, made me think about empathy. What is true empathy? I was primed ahead of time for this thought process – partly because of my work and partly because I read The Empathy Exams, an essay now turned into a book by Leslie Jamison. It resurrected more of what had already begun in my mind and heart.

One of the reasons I became a nurse was my strong sense of empathy for patients. Only was it empathy?

I always imagined that empathy is about hearing the trauma that happens to others, and imagining how I would feel, imagining what I would do, how on earth I would survive. And I think many of us do this. We hear a story from a refugee that enters our skin, our blood stream. We hear about the rape, or the hunger, or the food insecurity and we can’t stand it. It hurts too much. But is that being empathic or is it stealing their pain, pretending it’s ours?  Are we trauma thieves?

In the essay I cited above the author says this:” I used to believe that hurting would make you more alive to the hurting of others. I used to believe in feeling bad because somebody else did. Now I’m not so sure of either. I know that being in the hospital made me selfish. Getting surgeries made me think mainly about whether I’d have to get another one. When bad things happened to other people, I imagined them happening to me. I didn’t know if this was empathy or theft.” She then gives the example of a family member and their bout with Bell’s Palsy, a condition of temporary paralysis resulting in one half of the face being unable to move. Physicians treat the disease with high doses of steroids. The author says that she obsessed with her brother’s condition, she would look in the mirror, imagining her face being unable to move, imagining the difficulty she would go through. She goes on to say that she was “stealing” her brother’s trauma and taking it on herself.

Maybe in a world where we have so much we feel we have to steal trauma. But does that help anybody? Does guilt over my lack of trauma help the person who is traumatized? I don’t think so. And I don’t think that refugees or other survivors of trauma want that. I think they want to tell their stories, they have to tell their stories to heal. But the listener needs to enter into this with permission and respecting boundaries. It is not the story teller’s job to comfort me, the listener. 

So when I listen to the stories of refugees and others who have gone through untold difficulty, when I read about tragedies a world away in places that I love, when I sit with patients who are struggling in body and soul, am I stealing their trauma and imagining what is not mine or am I entering into it humbly, as someone who doesn’t necessarily know what it feels like, but wants to walk the journey with the person any way?

I don’t know – but what I do know is that I am called to walk into hard places with people, and to walk with humility – ever learning, ever listening, ever-present. And I hope, I so hope that this is empathy.

“Empathy comes from the Greek Empatheia – em (into) and pathos (feeling) – a penetration, a kind of travel. It suggests you enter another person’s pain as you’d enter another country, through immigration and customs, border-crossing by way of query: What grows where you are? What are the laws? What animals graze there?” from The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

What do you think? What do you believe true empathy is? 

Picture credit:

In Honor of Resilience – World Refugee Day 2013

Definition of a refugee: Someone who has been forced to flee their country and is unable or unwilling to return because of a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership of particular social group or political opinion.” – 1951 Refugee Convention.

There are over 43 million refugees and displaced people worldwide.  The sheer number overwhelms. One day out of the year people come together from around the world to honor refugees. Honor them for their courage. Honor them for their strength. Honor them for their resilience.

Some facts:

  • Refugees have no choice. They leave their homes because of violence, conflict, or persecution.
  • There are three “durable solutions” for refugees: Repatriation (going back to their homes once a level of stability is reached and the threat is over); local integration (rebuilding their lives in the place where they first sought refuge);resettlement (relocation to a third country where they can settle)
  • In a refugee crisis 75 percent of those displaced are women and children.
  • The main source of refugee law is the 1951 Geneva Convention. This gives guidelines on legal protection, assistance and rights of the refugee.
  • Currently globally displaced people are at an all time 18-year high “More people are refugees or internally displaced than at any time since 1994, with the crisis in Syria having emerged as a major new factor in global displacement.” UNHCR Global Trends Report.  The report doesn’t include the increase in numbers from the last few months of war in Syria.
  • 55% of the refugees cited in the report come from war-torn countries: Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Somalia, and Sudan.

Those are facts.

But facts live better in our minds through stories. So here’s a story:

In a small refugee clinic just blocks from Taksim Square I meet a woman from Syria. She came from Syria a year before. She is one of the 1.6 million Syrian refugees who have fled Syria in the past year. She is carrying a beautiful, but heavy, eight-year old boy. He can’t walk himself, he has cerebral palsy. She has been unable to get him seen by a doctor, unable to get him much-needed physical therapy for over a year. She knows that physical therapy is critical to his muscles, to make sure they don’t weaken but stay as strong as possible.

She’s doing what she can, trying to remember all the muscle strengthening exercises she was taught before coming, but she is worried. She carries him up four flights of stairs in order to have him seen by a motley group of nurses with no supplies. When we compliment her on her care, she looks surprised. “Why wouldn’t I care for him? He’s my son”. There’s little thought of herself, it’s about this child and her other children, their welfare. It’s about rebuilding and finding a life for themselves in a new place with a new language. It’s about taking one step after another, without thinking about how heavy the steps are, how painful – just one step after another.

Maybe tomorrow will be better. Maybe tomorrow she’ll be able to get him physical therapy. Tomorrow, God willing – there’s always a tomorrow.

It makes the dictionary definition of resilience look positively foolish. The real meaning of resilience lies in people — in their faces, in their eyes, in their tears, in their day by day willingness to go on.

So today I honor the resilience of refugees – those who day on day get up, try to understand paper work, wait for their asylum papers, seek health care, wait for a chance to rebuild and heal.

“In all the years I have worked on behalf of refugees, this is the most worrying I have ever witnessed. The needs of these people are overwhelming; their anguish is unbearable. Today, there are over 1.6 million registered Syrian refugees. More than one million of them arrived just in the last six months, and thousands more come every day, seeking places to stay, sustenance, someone who will listen and help them heal.” excerpt from statement for World Refugee Day 2013 by António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees

Changing our Immigrant Lexicon

“We have to watch who we hire” said the woman. “We can’t have a bunch of illegals hired or else we’ll be liable”

And I saw red. The color I have seen every time I hear someone use the term “illegals” for the past decade.

“By becoming judge, jury and executioner, you dehumanize the individual and generate animosity toward them.” Charles Garcia

It doesn’t take a reader much time in Communicating Across Boundaries to recognize that I work and identify with many immigrants. I live in an immigrant neighborhood, I have conversations daily with immigrants, and I am most at home when in a group of immigrants. I look similar to those of the majority population but my worldview has a different shape to it – I am an invisible immigrant.

And with this comes a desire for fairness and a strong sense of advocacy for immigrant communities.

I am convinced that fairness and advocacy includes examining our lexicon when it comes to immigrants and immigration. We all know the power of words; they shape us daily. And we have used the word “illegals” referring to people long enough. They are not illegals. They are undocumented people; people without the proper papers and documents required by a government. They may have committed illegal acts but a person cannot be illegal.

The word illegal alien holds even more offense. While I understand the word ‘alien’ to have been in wide use since Biblical times, in combining the two words we paint a picture of an unlawful creature from Mars.

I am not arguing the importance and merits of a solid immigration policy; what I am arguing is the terms and words that go into that policy. Because words make all the difference in our attitudes and decisions to treat people as human beings or as “other”.

In an excellent piece posted on CNN Opinion Charles Garcia goes as far as to call the words “illegal alien” or “illegal immigrant” racial slurs.

“When you label someone an “illegal alien” or “illegal immigrant” or just plain “illegal,” you are effectively saying the individual, as opposed to the actions the person has taken, is unlawful. The terms imply the very existence of an unauthorized migrant in America is criminal.” (Why ‘Illegal Immigrant’ is a Slur, CNN Opinion, July 6)

His points are well made. Significant he says is that the Supreme Court, in handing down their decision on immigration, did not use this biased language except in quoting other sources.

Dehumanizing those men, women and children who are in this country without proper documentation does nothing to help promote good policy and everything to create an angry “us” vs. “them” dialogue.

It’s time to change the lexicon and take out words that make creating fair policy even harder. So next time someone uses the word ‘illegals’ I challenge you to say to them “You mean people without proper documentation of their right to be here?”

And through changing our lexicon, may we be changed and pray for wisdom and humanity to be at the heart of the discussion.

Your Manicure Will Never be the Same – World Refugee Day

Today is World Refugee Day. I had forgotten and did a post on how my life is like a box of crayons. The irony of this hit me.

My life is like crayons because of privilege and choice. A refugee can’t even use that analogy because there is no choice. They leave because they have to. 43 million people leave their homes and countries and begin the arduous process of rebuilding.

Today I have a passport and a home, I have friends and family who have never had to flee any country, I have children who are safe and clothed and when I birthed them I had good prenatal care, ensuring as healthy a start as possible.

Today I get up and eat a healthy breakfast, walk to pick up a rental car and head off to a job that pays well. All this is what the refugee longs for and looks for. In honor of world refugee day I am taking down the post on my “Crayon Box” life and posting on a community that through hard work and resilience has made this transition and built a new life. Thank you for reading!

What do immigrant dreams and Hollywood have to do with your manicure? Turns out – almost everything!

Whether the north shore of Boston, Phoenix, or Cambridge, when I go get a manicure or pedicure I am met at the door by savvy, professional Vietnamese women.

An example of a French Manicure, acrylic nails...

They usher me in and authoritatively say“Pick your color!” I am suddenly no longer in control; instead it’s Linh or Mai or Minh who will dictate where I sit, where I stand and when I’ll leave. They know their business and they do it well.

Like any immigrant story, the story of Vietnamese and nail salons is one of ingenuity, resilience and hard work. It also has the fairytale element of a movie star and a dream.

It begins with Tippi Hedren, an actress best known for her roles in Alfred Hitchcock films. Beyond her stage career Tippi was committed to international relief. She was working with Food for the Hungry in a refugee camp in California when several women, refugees from Vietnam, admired her manicure. An idea was borne that she brought to her manicurist: Could the manicurist come to the camp on weekends and teach women this skill?

She could and she did. Through this seemingly small act, a business and dream was born. The skill set allowed for employment when families were desperate for income and within a short time Vietnamese refugees had both started and captured the market of affordable nail care. Until Tippi Hedron and the women  taught by her manicurist came onto the scene, manicures were an unaffordable luxury, limited only to those who had wealth and time.

A school in California called the Advance Beauty College, teaching manicuring, cosmetology and massage, has graduated over 25,000 students. Clients looking for a bargain benefit from the discounts offered as students work on their nails, able to  clock in the hours needed for a license from the state. While not only Vietnamese attend, they make up the largest percentage of students in the school profile.

It is a classic case study on the igenuity of refugees and immigrants. As I think about nail salons, looked on by most as merely a “service” industry, I am amazed and humbled at their skill, business savvy and ability to build a small empire. Indeed, my manicures will never be the same.

It’s also a good example of the principles of community development. Too often instead of teaching skills and working alongside a community, outsiders dictate to the community what they should do and how they should do it. Taking advantage of an opportunity and learning this skill gave a displaced refugee community a livelihood and a way to start over after dramatic and traumatic events changed their lives. All of this was focused toward building a new life and a future. Would that all could find their niche spots as they ride the waves of grief, loss and renewal in a new world.


An Unlikely Dead Head

I became a Dead Head while working in Pakistan with displaced people at age 51. It was an unlikely love story.

I had embarked on the journey a week before, armed with medical supplies and a head trying to remember all my past nursing skills when in crisis clinical situations. I was in Pakistan, my childhood home, working in flood relief after millions of people had been moved into refugee camps because of losing their homes to the rising waters. I had not been sleeping well and woke up early on the one day off I would have in a two week period. I  was desperate for some relief. To make it worse, I kept on telling myself that it wasn’t that hard, that the patients we were seeing had a far more difficult time than me, and that I was a big baby. None of these were helpful in the current situation.

I went into the living room of the small apartment that served as our home during the two weeks. Sleepily I grabbed my iPod, dropped my tired body onto a chair, and scrolled through the play list, hoping to soothe my soul with worship music. I stopped scrolling after a short time, furious. None of my music was there! Instead I had my choice of 1,200 songs from Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The White Stripes, Aerosmith, The Velvet Underground and lesser known bands that I had never listened to. In an instant I remembered that just before leaving Boston my 15-year-old son had told me he would charge my ipod before the trip. As he returned it, he had a smile on his face that I didn’t catch. I was too busy gathering passport, ticket and malaria medication. He had decided to give me a taste of his music on the journey, knowing that I would be unable to do anything about it.

There I was, eight thousand miles from the United States, bone-tired and I wanted to strangle my youngest child. In my frustration I happened to hit play on one of the songs from the Grateful Dead. As I listened to Jerry Garcia‘s folksy voice, the words from a song moved in a melodic moment  from iPod to soul.  “Reach out your hand, if your cup be empty. If your cup is full may it be again.” I began to cry. The sorrow and pain that had been a part of the journey as we daily tried to meet the needs of people in crisis came in a wave.

In what could only be described as a holy moment, the words and music worked their magic. God was present reaching out to fill my cup so I could move forward, meeting me in an unlikely way in the midst of exhaustion and inability.

On that day, in that time I knew two things. One – that I was an unlikely Dead Head, and two – that God’s creative ability to meet us through unlikely venues knows no bounds. Jerry Garcia will forever hold a holy place in my heart.

Reach out your hand if your cup be empty,
If your cup is full may it be again,
Let it be known there is a fountain,
That was not made by the hands of men.

There is a road, no simple highway,
Between the dawn and the dark of night,
And if you go no one may follow,
That path is for your steps alone