Column: Help with refugee transition

When brothers Patrick and Derek Seale Bakwa lost both of their parents before even turning six, they were living in the Democratic Republic of Congo. With no one around to care for them, the brothers were left to take care of each other — a task no child should ever have to face. Luckily, they were given refugee status in the United States and eventually were adopted in Idaho.

It is a shame to have to say that children being taken care of is lucky — every child should have someone to look after them. However, given the current global refugee crisis, we have no choice but to view these brothers as lucky. Patrick and Derek got lucky because they got the chance to start a new life and received at least some help in doing so. This is far too often not the case.

We could spend an infinite amount of time arguing refugee politics, but I don’t want to do that. The issue of helping refugees create lives for themselves upon fleeing the very dangerous places they used to call home is a matter of humanity, not politics. It is in our DNA to want to help others in need; whether it’s a homeless puppy that we want to take in as our own, or a family that relies on the help of Harvest Hope to survive, we inherently want to make a positive impact on those that need it the most. So why do struggles of refugees establishing lives in their new homes fly under the radar?

It’s one thing to like a pro-refugee post on Facebook or say that you support the country taking in more refugees. It is entirely different to be a part of the mission to help these refugees not only get out of their war-torn home countries, but also create a life wherever they end up. The reality is, even if they manage to reach a new country, it can be really hard for refugee families to find opportunities to truly make their own life.

Mostafa Kanjou and his family were accepted into the United States in September of 2015 along with some other families. At first, Kanjou said things went pretty smoothly and he was even able to enroll his children in school in a reasonable amount of time. However, he started noticing things that made him and his family feel more like a burden than residents of this country. For example, Kanjou said that he felt neglected by the overall refugee process; things like communicating with neighbors and finding transportation to work were extremely difficult.

This is where we can help. It is extremely difficult to run a seamless transition for refugees, especially in today’s anti-refugee political climate. Now, it may seem like this is something beyond our scope of helping; but, actually, there are so many things that we can do besides voicing our support for refugees on social media.

Even here in South Carolina, where dozens of refugees have relocated, there are many ways we can help every day. One such way is through the Carolina Peace Resource Center, which advocates for local social justice, among numerous other things. This center offers many ways to help, such as donating and even interning. Another more hands-on approach to helping refugees establish a life here is through the Scholastic Soccer Program, which focuses on youth refugees. Anyone can volunteer here after a simple background check as a soccer coach or tutor for refugee children. The program’s goal is to inspire these children to get involved in the community and feel at home.

Now more than ever, refugees and their families need help in making lives for themselves wherever they end up after fleeing their homes. We cannot continue to say we support them, but ignore the fact that even once they arrive in a new country, they need help beyond plane tickets. As college students, we are in the very fortunate position. But it could have easily been any of us that were forced to leave our homes and start over in a new country. Wouldn’t you want some help in starting your new life? We need to show refugees that we care about their futures and welcome them to their new homes by assisting in the transition.


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