Self-Sufficiency in 8 Months – How to Settle a Refugee

we can build walls

It came to my mind yesterday that most of us have limited knowledge of the refugee situation in the United States alone, much less the world. The purpose of this post is to give a few important facts about refugees and resettlement. Because I am in the United States, I have focused on the process here. In order to better understand the worldwide problem, I think it’s important to know what your countries rules and laws are.

Legal Definition: “A refugee, as defined by Section 101(a)42 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), is a person who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her home country because of a “well-founded fear of persecution” due to race, membership in a particular social group, political opinion, religion, or national origin.

Brief History: The definition of the word comes from the United Nations 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocols. The definition was crafted because of the need for international protection of displaced peoples after World War II. Policies around refugee resettlement in the United States go back to 1980, when Congress passed the Refugee Act and huge numbers of Souteast Asians came to the United States under refugee status.  It was then that the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) was created.

Key Point: Our refugee policies have not been truly updated since that time! 

Process: The process is long and difficult, and the number of refugees who end up with legal citizenship in a country where they resettle is small compared to the overall number of refugees. Each year, the president submits a report to Congress called the “Proposed Refugee Admissions Report.” The overall number of refugees that the U.S will accept is proposed by the president and agreed on (or not) by congress. It’s important to note that the number of refugees actually settled is generally far fewer than the number agreed on. This is because of the cumbersome and ridiculously large amount of paperwork that goes into each person’s application. In 2014, that number was 70,000 but the actual number was around 45,000.

There are three choices for a refugee once they escape: repatriation (once safe), local integration, resettlement in a third country.

Priority for resettlement is based on three things: 

  • Priority 1: Individual cases primarily based on persecution
  • Priority 2: Key designated groups – these are selected in consultation with other groups like UNHCR.
  • Priority 3: Relatives of refugees who are already settled in the U.S. (spouses, parents, children under 21)

The process begins in camps or at borders by UNHCR. UNHCR registers refugees and determines their status. They then refer to the US Resettlement Program (USRP). Prescreening is done by Resettlement Support Center staff, followed by an onsite interview by United States Citizenship and Immigration Service and Department of Homeland Security. It is safe to say that with the increased threats and fear of terrorism, this part is grueling. Once the person is approved, they are finger printed and have security checks. The average time for processing refugees is 18 months but applications from Syrians take much longer because of security and the difficulty of verifying information. 

Key Point: The average time in a refugee camp has risen to 17 years. 

Final steps before arrival are medical screening and determining where in the United States the person will be resettled. Travel arrangements are then made by the International Organization on Migration.

Key Point: Cost of travel must be repaid within 6 months of arrival in the United States. It is not free. There is no free lunch in this process. I promise. 

On Arrival: A VOLAG (Volunatry Agency) meets the refugee on arrival and takes them to predesignated, furnished housing. During the first 90 days, VOLAGS arrange for housing, food, transportation, medical care, and employment counseling services. Each state has a state coordinator and the VOLAGS work closely with the state coordinators. Both ultimately answer to the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Key Point: The goal of the United States Refugee Program is “Self-sufficiency after 8 months.” 

Think about that for a minute. You’ve lost everything. You hear a car backfire and you think it’s a bomb. Anyone in authority fills you with fear, because you know your life journey is literally in their hands. You grieve for the family you left behind, even as you are relieved that you are finally safe. But in eight months, you need to be a fully functioning member of society. That is an enormous task.

Difference between Immigrants, Refugees, and Asylees: An immigrant comes to the country of their own accord. Some would argue that often circumstances in their countries are so difficult that they have to look at other options, but they are not forced from their homes. Refugees and asylees must have a “well-founded fear of persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.”* The difference is that refugees get permission to come to a country before they arrive, whereas asylees receive permission after they arrive.

Important things to remember: Research has shown there to be four main categories of stress experienced by refugees. These are Traumatic Stress, Resettlement Stress, Acculturation Stress, and Isolation Stress.  A key part of working through this is strengthening areas that contribute to resilience in people. Among other things, family and community support for the refugee contributes to resilience and ability to move forward. Community matters. Family matters.

As I think about the current crisis, I think the photograph at the top says it all, so in closing, I will repeat it: “….But imagine for a second if it were you; your child in your arms; the world you knew torn apart around you. There is no price you would not pay; There is no wall you would not climb.”**

I highly recommend the film The Good Lie. The movie came out last year, but was not widely shown. It tells the story of the Lost Boys and Girls of Sudan, orphans who walked thousands of miles to get to refugee camps in Kenya. It is a poignant look at the refugee journey and the tenacity it takes to resettle.  I’ve included the trailer for the movie here.



**Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission

The Anatomy of a Hate

do you want to be healed

It is as I am reading Unbroken that I suddenly feel a rage toward a people group I don’t even know.

Unbroken, a book by Laura Hillenbrand, is an epic story of the Pacific side of World War II. It is a tribute to brilliant writing and detailed research. The story focuses on the life of Louis Zamperini and his experience during World War II. Zamperini is an Olympic runner and a war hero and the book took seven years to write.  The result is extraordinary.

It’s while I am reading about the horrors of the POW camps where Zamperini was held captive that I begin to feel the stirrings of hate.

The documented evil perpetrated on prisoners of war is indescribable, and yet the author describes it. The inhumane treatment at the hands of prison guards, the worst being a lower level officer of discipline, strips the prisoners of all dignity as they are starved, beaten, and forced into submission.

But what is fascinating is what I see happening in my own heart. None of this was done to me, none of this was done to family members, yet, I find myself hating these men. I hate the prison guards. I hate their arrogance. I hate their treatment of fellow man. I hate the starvation, exhaustion, and disease that was rampant in the camps and perpetrated by evil guards.

The frightening reality is that I begin judging an entire people group by the actions of prison guards, who – themselves humiliated and degraded – were inflicting the same on these prisoners. 

I find myself condemning all Japanese people because I am reading a book that describes the awful realities of war. I forget about my friend Lara, whose father is Japanese. I forget about the many Japanese friends we made in Chicago during our first year of marriage. I forget that the civilian population of Japan suffered greatly during the war, two of their cities bombed into oblivion. I forget all that. My heart is lost in hate and rage.

I toss and turn in my anger and rage and halfway through the night, I realize I am a perfect example of the anatomy of a hate.  And is this not what I am troubled about with Franklin Graham’s public statement about Muslims? That he has judged a billion people based on the actions of a few? As I point my finger at him, I feel fingers pointing back at me and I hate it. This was not the intent of the author. This was the result of my reaction to the words I was reading. The intent of the author was to show the extraordinary power of the human spirit, the resilience of the human will to live and to forgive.

I think about the human heart and how it can be influenced. I think about stories that come down through generations of people – stories that cause hate and bitterness to breed or offer the opportunity to show forgiveness and resilience. Stories of slavery; of the Armenian genocide; of the Nazi death camps; of the Spanish Inquisition; of partition between India and Pakistan. They all have the same thing in common – violence and evil perpetrated to large groups of people. And as the stories are told they can breed prejudice and hate. Prejudice and hate left unchecked, unforgiven, lead into years of conflict.

Ultimately this is all about the human heart and its ability to be deceived and influenced. We cannot hope to rid ourselves and our world of prejudice and hate without a change in the human heart. Education can only take us so far – ultimately its about the heart. And no one can change the human heart but the God whose image we bear.

So I stop myself and I ask for forgiveness, for allowing hate to breed in me through the pages of a book. I pray for grace. I pray that I will immediately respond to the voice that offers Truth and Grace, the voice that reminds me we are made in the image of God. And though that image is sometimes distorted beyond recognition, it can be restored to beauty through a God who redeems. 

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” CS Lewis

TCK Reunions – An Invisible Bond

English: Cover of book Third Culture Kids: gro...

TCK Reunions—an invisible bond by Robynn

“A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.”—David Pollock

A TCK is “someone who, as a child, has spent a significant period of time in one or more culture(s) other than [their] own, thus integrating elements of those cultures and their own birth culture, into a third culture.” –Kay Eakin

TCKs tend to have more in common with one another, regardless of nationality, than they do with non-TCKs from their passport country.[3][4] TCKs are often multilingual and highly accepting of other cultures. Although moving between countries may become an easy thing for some TCKs, after a childhood spent in other cultures, adjusting to their passport country often takes years.

Before World War II, 66% of TCKs came from missionary families, and 16% came from business families. After World War II, with the increase of international business and the rise of two international superpowers, the composition of international families changed. Sponsors are generally broken down into five categories: missionary (17%), business (16%), government (23%), military (30%), and “other” (14%).[5] Some TCK families migrate for work independently of any organization based in their country of origin. –Wikipedia

There are a group of us who bear no identifying marks. We don’t have the same accent, we don’t pronounce or even necessarily spell words the same way. We can’t tell one another at first glance. We don’t wear the “home team” t-shirt.

But when we meet, and we know we’ve met, it’s like we’re from the same place. We greet each other, we carry on, we tell stories, we laugh wholeheartedly. It doesn’t matter the age difference, the nationality, the gender. We connect.

It’s a very strange phenomenon.

This is what happens when Third Culture Kids meet other Third Culture Kids.

I’ve had this experience often. Two years ago I was sent to a college campus to recruit students for a non-profit agency. The other two representatives were both men, Peter and William. Peter grew up in Kenya and attended Rift Valley Academy. William on the other hand spent his childhood in the Ivory Coast where he attended Ivory Coast Academy. I was raised in Pakistan and went to Murree Christian School. The three of us all graduated in 1988, we all attended different colleges across North America, we all currently live in different corners of the world. And yet meeting up with these two men and working together for the weekend was like attending a reunion. We had so much in common. We laughed easily at the same jokes. Our banter was full of sarcasm and cynicism. We tried to outdo each other with airport stories and travel escapades.

What was interesting was the number of TCK students we quickly developed a rapport with who stopped by our booth. These students were from all over the globe.  Instantly the three of us middle-aged adults bonded to these young college kids. We shared history and an invisible connection even though we had never met, had never visited their childhood homes, had never met their parents.

This past spring, I had the privilege of traveling to Turkey where I stayed in a retreat center surrounded by mountains. It was spectacular. However, the highlight of the trip was meeting a new friend, Ruth. Ruth too is a TCK. She grew up, in Iran, although her family left there when she was fifteen. The remainder of her high school years were spent in the US. Like me, she is a TCK. She’s eight years older than me but you would never know it. We were immediately close friends. I know it sounds trite and impossible. But it really happened. We jumped into each others stories and souls. We connected. We understood each other. There were so many things we didn’t have to explain, things we could assume. It’s a wonderful relief to meet someone from your “home town”.

My husband works closely with Ed Brown, who is incidentally Marilyn’s older brother. In March 2011 we travelled north to visit Ed and his wife Susannah. Both Ed and Susannah are adult TCK’s; like me they both grew up in Pakistan. Although they’re considerably older than I am, we were astounded by how similar we are. We share the same sense of humour, similar political views, similar passions and pastimes. It was uncanny.

TCKs don’t have the privilege of returning “home” for Christmas. We don’t run into each other when we’re back in “town”—we are spread globally, we’ve settled internationally. When we happen to meet another it’s a sweet treat, a kind reminder that we are not alone, that we’re not completely strange or forever foreign.

There are others out there just like me. That might worry those who know me…but for me, it’s a comforting reality that brings me joy!

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