By Sabrina Guo, 12
Until reading the recent news headlines, you may have had the impression that the refugee crisis that occurred from 2015 to 2016 was over. However, as we are quickly learning, the refugee crisis is ongoing, and not just in the United States. There has been a sharp rise in the number of people going to Europe to claim asylum, and governments within the European Union (EU) have been trying to stop any movement of undocumented migrants with their countries. The EU has done many things to stop asylum seekers, such as closing legal routes, which leads refugees to take more dangerous routes with a higher level of dependence on people smugglers. This leads states to try to crack down on refugees even harder, and the cycle is exacerbated. Also, many refugees are stuck in refugee camps, while others struggle to start a new life in places they’ve already settled in. Even though many different countries have tried to stem the flow of refugees to their countries, there are still more and more people who are trying to flee persecution in their home countries by seeking asylum in European countries and the United States.
Which leads me to my next point! Did you know that there are more than 65 million people in the world who have been forcibly displaced from their home countries? And that nearly half of all refugees are children? Almost half! So when we read about refugees, we’re often reading about kids our age or the age of our siblings, cousins, and friends.
This got me thinking: what are some things that a refugee child might experience when trying to migrate to our country? Sometimes, on the news, it can sound like it’s a simple, fast process to immigrate to the United States. But as I read up on the issue, I found out that it’s far from easy or quick. For example, I read this article on the International Rescue Committee website (link below) that described—in easy to understand graphics—what one family had to go through to come to the U.S. from Syria. This family lived in a conflict zone, and after the father in the family was hit in the stomach by a stray bullet, the family registered their request to leave Syria with the UN. And then they waited for three years before they heard anything back. Three years! Can you imagine waiting to hear back about whether you could leave for three years? I think about the kids in that family. The article says the parents were very scared for their children’s lives in Syria. But on a more minor level—can you imagine living your life in limbo for that long? For example, these children must not have known they would stay in the same country as the friends they were making at school. After waiting for three years, the family finally heard back from the UN, and from there, it took about eight months of interviews and processing before they were vetted and could leave Syria for America. The whole process took nearly four years! The length and difficulty of the process really struck me.
And then when once a refugee family or child gets to the U.S., there’s still the process of assimilation to go through, not to mention the pain of leaving other family members, friends, and an entire way of life behind in their home country. Once in their new country, refugees often face discrimination at school or in public. For example, many people across the globe think that Syrian people are terrorists, which is not true. Syrians are against ISIS, and they do not support them. ISIS is a criminal organization, and Syrian citizens are the ones that are truly paying the price.
Many refugee children need psychological support because of having suffered through terrible circumstances in their home countries, including being separated from their parents and family because of conflict, having to travel hundreds and thousands of miles in unfamiliar surroundings without the protection of their guardians. Without any support, they are in danger of being abused, treated poorly, or physically harmed. These are just some of the ways that refugee children may experience trauma. Luckily, some schools in the US have already started some programs that will help create more friendly interactions between children with different backgrounds, and help them learn about each other’s cultures.
There are also many other organizations, psychologists, and artists who are working with refugee children to help them make sense of their experiences and circumstances. Certain organizations, like Another Kind of Girl Collective, hold workshops for the children in refugee camps, helping them to express themselves and their experiences through art. Other organizations, like War Child, provide education and psychological care for children in conflict zones around the world. And there also plenty of organizations and opportunities to help with the current refugee crisis in the United States. I’m including a list of links below for any readers who would like to become involved and help kids our age.
If I could say anything to the children coming over to the US, I may not fully understand your struggles, but I am trying to comprehend the many hardships you may face each day. I welcome you to America, and I hope that you will enjoy settling in here. I hope you find an America that is warm and supportive of you, and I hope you will like your new home with us.
The process of coming to America (with easy to understand graphics):
The vetting process to come to the US:
A UNICEF study showed that half of all refugees are children:
Types of trauma refugee children can undergo:
The number of refugees there in the world:
Common myths about refugees:
Ways you can help with the current refugee crisis in the US:
A list of organizations that work directly with refugees:
Mercy Corps: https://www.mercycorps.org
Project Lift: http://www.projectlift.org.tr/about-us/
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF): msf.org
Refugee Trauma Initiative: https://www.refugeetrauma.org
War Child: warchild.org
Amel Organization: http://amel.org
Art Refuge UK: https://www.artrefugeuk.org
Save the Children HEART (Healing and Education through the Arts): https://www.savethechildren.org/us/what-we-do/global-programs/education/healing-and-education-through-the-arts
Another Kind of Girl: http://anotherkindofgirl.com
The International Rescue Committee: https://www.rescue.org/who-we-are
The Young Center: theyoungcenter.org
The Inside Out Project: https://insideoutsideproject.org