How to be a Refugee: The Process

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While you have may heard about the Refugee or Immigration Crisis, you probably don’t know what a refugee actually is. The process of becoming a refugee is a long, hard, and complicated road. So here is a basic overview of what a refugee experiences during this process.

Leaving Home
There are lots of reasons that people are forced to leave their homes. This is called “mass displacement”.

Displaced population statistics. Image Courtesy of www.rescue.org.
Displaced population statistics. Image Courtesy of www.rescue.org.

Some of the current situations that create mass displacement, according to the International Rescue Committee:
-Natural Disasters/Disease: Earthquakes(Nepal, Afghanistan, Haiti, Pakistan), Ebola(West Africa)

Kathmandu buildings brought down by the earthquake in Nepal on April 25, 2015. Image Courtesy of Reuters via www.bbc.com.
Kathmandu buildings brought down by the earthquake in Nepal on April 25, 2015. Image Courtesy of Reuters via www.bbc.com.

-Drought/Starvation(Niger, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Yemen)

Drought lands in Niger. Image Courtesy of water.worldbank.org.
Drought lands in Niger. Image Courtesy of water.worldbank.org.

-Political Instability: Burundi, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, Mali

Burundian police collect weapons from suspected fighters in Bujumbura, Burundi. Image Courtesy of telegraph.co.uk.
Burundian police collect weapons from suspected fighters in Bujumbura, Burundi. Image Courtesy of telegraph.co.uk.

-Terrorism and Violence: Boko Haram(Niger, Nigeria), Wars and Military Conflicts (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine, Yemen), Persecution(Myanmar, Syria).

August 31, 2015 Police and Protesters clash outside of Parliament in Kiev, Ukraine. Image Courtesy of Newsweek.com.
August 31, 2015 Police and Protesters clash outside of Parliament in Kiev, Ukraine. Image Courtesy of Newsweek.com.

These are just a few of the problems that cause people to fear for their lives if they stay in their homelands.

The Escape
Getting away from one of these situations is difficult. Some refugees manage to find camps within their own countries. Others seek aid from neighboring nations and organizations.
Some cross in “boats”.

Refugees cross from Turkey to Greece in a dinghy. Image Courtesy of independent.co.uk.
Refugees cross from Turkey to Greece in a dinghy. Image Courtesy of independent.co.uk.

Some catch trains.

Refugees at rail station in the Macedonian border town of Gevgelija. Image Courtesy of telegraph.co.uk.
Refugees at rail station in the Macedonian border town of Gevgelija. Image Courtesy of telegraph.co.uk.

Others simply make a run for it.

Migrants try to push past Hungarian police in Roszke. Image Courtesy of telegraph.co.uk.
Migrants try to push past Hungarian police in Roszke. Image Courtesy of telegraph.co.uk.

Classification
The United Nations is responsible for determining who is refugee and the services that the individual is qualifies for. The United Nations Refugee Agency, or UNHCR, classifies displaced individuals as a member of one of three groups.

To be classified, an individual must first register with the UNHCR or another international refugee aid agency.

Refugees register at a football stadium in Mytilene, on the Greek island of Lesbos. Image Courtesy of telegraph.co.uk
Refugees register at a football stadium in Mytilene, on the Greek island of Lesbos. Image Courtesy of telegraph.co.uk

Amnesty International describes:
Migrants: “moves around within their own country, or from one country to another, usually to find work, although there may be other reasons such as to join family. Some move voluntarily, while others are forced to leave because of economic hardship or other problems. People can migrate ‘regularly’, with legal permission to work and live in a country, or ‘irregularly’, without permission from the country they wish to live and work in.”
Refugee: “a person who has fled their own country because they have suffered human rights abuses or because of who they are or what they believe in. Their own government cannot or will not protect them and so they are forced to seek international protection.”
Asylum Seekers: “someone who has left their country in search of international protection, but is yet to be recognized as a refugee.”

Limbo
Now they wait. They wait for either peace to return to their homeland so they can return, or for there to open a place for them abroad.

Klaw Htoo and her daughters Gloria and Sophia lived in a refugee camp in Thailand for nine years when they fled from Myanmar. Image Courtesy of rescue.org
Klaw Htoo and her daughters Gloria and Sophia lived in a refugee camp in Thailand for nine years when they fled from Myanmar. Image Courtesy of rescue.org

Applications
Aid organizations and the UNHCR work within refugee camps to assist individuals and families in filling out applications and necessary medical documentation. There are many interviews with government security agencies, background checks, and more medical exams.

After these applications, the UNHCR determines what with happen to the refugee. The Utah Refugee Center states that one of three things will happen at this point. 1)Repatriation: individual returns home. 2)Nationalization: individual stays in the country they fled to. 3) Third Country Asylum or Resettlement. Less than 1% of the refugee population qualifies for resettlement.

Placement

The U.S. State Department and Immigration and Naturalization Services, and other such agencies in other nations, then conduct additional background checks and interviews to determine if the individual or family can be accepted into that nation. If the refugee passes this process, the State Department will contact local resettlement agencies about placement possibilities.

Once a site has been selected and approved, the refugee is informed of the resettlement site in the US.

The Arlington Diocese Office of Resettlement spends several weeks or months making assigning caseworkers and making travel arrangements.

New Life
Once the refugee has been placed and given proper documentation, the individual is assigned to a local refugee center and case worker. The refugee center volunteer coordinator and the case worker usually connect the person with a volunteer mentor from the community.

Resettlement groups like IRC continue to make #RefugeesWelcome, despite push back. https://t.co/XNJCCasO3Z via @WSJ pic.twitter.com/0FRsi47RII

Dallas Citizens made signs and cards to welcome new refugees. Image Courtesy of twitter.com/theIRC.
Dallas Citizens made signs and cards to welcome new refugees. Image Courtesy of twitter.com/theIRC.

— IRC Intl Rescue Comm (@theIRC) December 22, 2015

The refugee is given a thourough medical examination and signed up for Social Security and aid, such as food stamps and housing assistance.

They are given three months to find jobs with assistance from local refugee centers and nonprofit groups.

After six months the original resettlement agency finalizes their documentation.

After one year, refugees are allowed to apply for a green card.

After five years, refugees may apply for citizenship.

How does refugee resettlement work? We break down the process: https://t.co/GcoY4vIc4E #RefugeesWelcome

Family of Refugees during resettlement. Image Courtesy of twitter.com/theIRC.
Family of Refugees during resettlement. Image Courtesy of twitter.com/theIRC.

— IRC Intl Rescue Comm (@theIRC) January 3, 2016

Congratulations! After years of running, paperwork, and struggle you might have become a refugee in America.