Thursday, October 10, 2013

What Happens to a Refugee in South Asia When the US Government Shuts Down

The other day I got home upset about a flat tire and a traffic ticket. My outlook on my #firstworldproblems changed as soon as I checked my Facebook and read a status written by a friend about the refugees she works with on a daily basis. Today this friend, Sara E., who works with refugees from all over the world who have found themselves in South Asia, shared with me the devastating repercussions of the current US government shut down on refugees and asylum seekers granted resettlement into the United States. It's a sobering reminder of how many people truly suffer all over the world, not just in the US, when we cannot come to consensus. I write more about this consensus problem in my post, A Common Conversation.

by Sara E.

The ramifications of the US government shut down for many is a matter of life and death, not just a livelihood.

Imagine escaping your country of origin due to persecution. Your life was so unlivable in your homeland, you uprooted yourself to wherever you could gain asylum. Once there, you find that you are often unwelcome; not legally allowed to work and therefore providing for yourself and your family is an insurmountable feat that wears on you daily. You face a new host of persecutions--discrimination, exploitation, assault, and possible deportation.

You dig within and find the strength to persevere, because what else can you do?

After an indeterminate length of time (for some it is several month, years, or decades) you are selected as one of the nearly 1% of the 10 million+ refugees (on record with UNHCR) to be referred for resettlement to a third country as a “durable solution.”

You rejoice at the prospect to start again, despite the fact the resettlement process can take years—you must be interviewed, receive security clearances, medical clearances and immigration authorization. Again, you hang in there…what else can you do?

Then it happens: you are scheduled to depart. You make arrangements. Sell whatever belongings you can, because you’ll only be allowed to take the airline maximum of one 50 pound bag and you’ll need whatever money you can scrape together to help you start a new life.

Then, just before you are scheduled to depart, you are informed that due to the shutdown of the US government, a moratorium on refugee arrivals has been instated until such a time when funding can be ensured to enable adequate stateside assistance for your arrival. At this, you may begin to lose hope.
Syrian refugees, fleeing their homeland. Photograph from

Such is the situation for thousands of refugees worldwide who have endured more than most can imagine and yet whose lives continue to hang in the balance while the US government remains shut down.

The Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service blog, "Redefining Welcome," has also posted about this topic here, also discussing the repercussions of the shutdown on migrants and refugees currently in the U.S. If you are interested in doing more for refugees in the US, a good starting point is looking at this list of nonprofit refugee resettlement organizations and choosing one to volunteer with, advocate with, or donate to. Church World Service, for example, has several local and affiliate offices with whom you can volunteer to "Welcome a Refugee." The International Detention Coalition has a list of urgent actions that can be taken in support of human rights for refugees here. Amnesty International has also produced several reports on refugees and migration that can be found here.

11/4/2013 -- An update from Sara: Now that the government has reopened, refugees resettled to the United States are now able to travel.