Refugee Need Not Apply



a person who has been forced to leave their country to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.

Congolese refugees in Rwanda

As we look across the globe, many are compelled to abandon their homes because of violence, persecution or natural disaster. I have yet to meet a refugee who caused any of these events.  Each has been caught up in something they had no control over.  Politics, famine, war and racism drove them from the land they knew.  Many have been away from home for some time.  Some of the people I have met lived in refugee camps for the majority of their lives. We are talking 15-20 years! If you have never seen a refugee camp, you need to. It is quite jarring.

Unfortunately, the presence of refugees is nothing new. It goes back a long way. The Israelites were refugees, forced to move from place to place due to violence. As they moved and conquered others, they created refugees.  That's how ancient people behaved.  Jesus was a refugee. His family fled to Egypt (glad the Egyptians found it in their hearts to allow them!) to avoid Herod’s efforts to kill the new King of Israel.

Have Irish ancestry? You might be able to thank the Irish Potato Famine that saw as many as 2 million Irish leave their country for distant shores through no fault of their own.If you are of European descent, your last name will tell a story of immigration and possibly reveal a refugee situation.

I remember Hurricane Katrina and the disaster in wrought in Louisiana and other states. Thousands were forced to relocate because their homes were destroyed and the land was (and in some cases, still is) unlivable. Living in Arizona, I have come across people who have relocated from there to here. They moved here with relatives to make a new life in a place free from hurricanes and came to the frying pan of the desert! These people were refugees, forced to move because of a natural disaster.

Growing up in Western Montana, I recall very clearly having kids come into my (very white) school who didn’t have the same language, culture or skin color. They were full of joy and played soccer like no one I had ever seen! They were Hmong and Laotians who had been caught up in the violence of S.E. Asia of the 1960’s and 70’s. My memories remind me of a kind and caring people and kids who were just like me. I have every confidence that the Congolese refugees placed in Missoula in 2016 will find a new home with caring people.

Currently, we have a woman living with us from Rwanda. She is a refugee. She is a survivor of the 1994 Genocide. She is smart, funny, articulate, intelligent, hard working and was blessed to come to the United States. We are so grateful to know her and her family. My story is full of refugees. Perhaps it is because of my ancestry or my choices, but I can't seem to get away from it. From relatives to friends, refugees are a part of me. And they are a part of us.

The United States has provided a place for the persecuted, war-ravaged and displaced since its inception (hello Puritans). If you are reading this and you live in the United States, it is probable that your history has refugee in it.  We are a country of refugees.

They are people.  They have love.  They have hope.  They have dreams.  Each refugee longs for a home, a place to belong.  They didn't choose what happened to them any more than we picked our family of origin.  Are all happy?  Are all full of appreciation? Of course not.  You may not be either.  But that isn't the point.  We have a place.  We have a home.  But, I bet if we were to go just a few hundred years back, we would find some of our relatives in pretty rough shape.  My Polish and Irish ancestors weren't wanted in this country, and it wasn't their fault.  I am grateful they overcame the challenges they faced and provided a future, not just for their children but for mine. Refugees aren't inferior and we aren't superior because we are white, successful or that our nation is so much better. People are people. They deserve dignity and place to belong the same way we do. Maybe with some reflection and compassion, we can continue to be a land of refugees and make a better welcome than our relatives got. Making room in our country starts with empathy and making room in our hearts.

© Bob Fabey