The Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti has refocused attention on the world’s trauma victims. They are far too many to count, and the aftershocks to them, their families, and the world around them are immeasurable, yet numbingly real and lasting. Notwithstanding the personal devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, most catastrophic events have occurred outside the United States, and remain a comforting step removed from daily American life.
But just as America prides itself on being a land of immigrants, its beacon is picking up the plight of refugees from around the world, in relatively modest numbers each year. Over time, though, the numbers have grown and the stories of trauma and torture are surfacing closer to home, all our homes. According to the Washington Post, “there are an estimated 400,000 to 500,000 people in this country who had survived torture in their homelands.”
Chicago has always been a beacon to the world’s immigrants, and now it is training its light on and spreading its welcome mat for refugees who fled home for the safety and dignity of a place they barely knew. We feature the remarkable and harrowing stories of eight refugees – from Cambodia, Guatemala, Sudan, Burma, Iraq, Palestine, Ethiopia and Tibet.
- Surviving the Killing Fields to tell the Cambodian refugee story
- The caged bird thrives: Jorge’s flight from Guatemala
- Out of the tall grass with Sudanese refugee Peter Magai Bul
- Leaving a life of “no choice”: Burmese refugee Ernest Pyaohn finds dignity
- Fleeing the bombs of Baghdad: Omar Muhammad’s refuge
- My homeland is a suitcase: The story of Palestinian refugee Awad Sifri
- Exchanging favors: Ethiopian refugee Esayas Mesfin’s survival kit
- Escape, faith and dance: What it means to be Tibetan for Lobsang Yangphel
We have countless questions about refugees. Many seem simple, though the answers are elusive and surprising. Others we’ve never thought about, yet the answers are eye-opening. Here are an array of questions, and stories that bring the answers to life:
- What’s the difference between a refugee and an asylee, and how does a person decide which status to choose?
- What is the process for deciding if a person has a sufficient fear of persecution to be granted refugee status?
- How, when and where are refugee camps started?
- How do people find and get accepted into refugee camps in the immediate aftermath of fleeing their country of origin?
- How are young people educated in refugee camps? Are there standards, and are they being met?
- What are the minimum requirements refugee camps must follow? Are they being met?
- How do refugees get chosen for admission into countries that accept them for resettlement?
- What criteria determine which refugees are admitted to the United States?
- How are the decisions made where to place refugees geographically in the U.S.?
- What does it take to sponsor a refugee?
- What type of financial assistance are refugees entitled to?
- Can refugees work legally in the U.S.?
- How is family defined for refugees and immigrants?
- Under what circumstances are family members allowed to join a refugee in the United States?
- What happens to asylum-seekers when they are denied asylum?
- Are ethnic Palestinians allowed to visit Israel or the occupied territories?
- How is it decided if it is safe for refugees to return to the country from where they fled? Are they compelled to return?
In the process of sharing the stories of Chicago’s refugees, we pay tribute to these stories that illuminate the plight of refugees around the world: