34 Million Refugees, One at a Time

Shane Young is serving his second year as a JV AmeriCorps member in Gresham, OR, as a Refugee Advocate for the Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Program.

34 Million. That is an immense number when you think about it. 34 Million of anything is a lot. However, what if the 34 Million are people, human beings displaced from their countries and homelands. 34 Million is the latest number of “registered” refugees in the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) database. Why is registered in quotations? More and more refugees flee their homes each and every day. As the number of conflicts around the world increases, the number of safe havens for people to flee decreases. They run into jungles to escape persecution. They hop on boats and trains to get as far away as possible. They do anything to survive. Under Gresham Shane Young with Refugee Clientsthese circumstances, it’s easy to see why huge numbers of them are never registered by the UN. The ones who have been fortunate enough to make it to the United States are my clients. As a JV AmeriCorps member, I serve as a refugee advocate. Welcome to the world of Refugee Resettlement.

I often wonder what they went through to get here. The process is long and often broken, but it is what we have, and we do our best to help as many as possible. Most US citizens have never been in the situation of our refugees, and I hope none of us ever will be. No one wants to be a refugee, but for some it is the only option. It is a choice between something horrific and something else. Although my clients are quiet about what they have been through, often times they will have conversations about what has happened in their attempts at a better life. To be brief their stories have often included some of the following:

  • Witnessing the death or murder of family, friends and loved ones.
  • Living in very minimal conditions with no running water or food for days on end -refugee camps often provide very minimal in terms of shelter or food, that is if they make it there in good health.
  • Rape, abuse and torture from those who are persecuting them.
  • The pain of waiting, waiting for an answer, any answer.

You can see the pain and suffering in their eyes. Nevertheless, they smile. No matter what barrier we have to cross, whether it is racial, cultural, and lingual or some other, they smile. Due to all of the smiling, I have developed an immense amount of humility. I have never seen people be as humble as the refugees I have had the privilege of serving. Water, juice, fruit, tea, you name it and they will offer it to you. Their kind words and actions pierce even the hardest of hearts.

Throughout my service, I have been shopping for clothes without speaking Arabic. I have applied for Social Security cards without speaking Somali. I have been to Winco to go grocery shopping without speaking Dzongkha (Bhutanese). In my service as a refugee advocate, I accompany these newly arriving refugees and make their transition into our country as easy as possible. Many times easier said than done, however, often just joining them for tea eases their minds to a time when life was a little easier.

44 Million.  44 million is the estimated number of refugees in the world. That means there are an estimated 10 million refugees who the UNHCR has no contact with. This fight of resettling one of the world’s most poor and marginalized populations has been going for almost 70 years. Nonetheless, we settle people and families one at a time, and we smile and stay humble, for they are teaching us more than we could ever know about survival and the love of one another as humans, without boundaries, without judgment. Love.

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