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Posts Tagged ‘refugee’

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I lifted this from Beautiful Day, an organization I’d like you know about if you don’t already.

Founder Keith Cooper writes, “A couple months ago a guy named Scott Axtmann brought a great group of interns from his church (Renaissance) to visit our kitchen facility at Amos House. We did the things we usually do — greeted the trainees, chatted with our chef and other staff, then sat out in the dining hall to talk more about mission and share thoughts about resettlement, the job market, and being a part of positive change in our city.

“This is an aside — but if you live in driving distance of Providence and are interested in our work, you should stop by for this kind of tour. Plan to come after 5 on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. If possible give us a couple weeks warning. A tour doesn’t take long, but seeing something with your own eyes usually takes the strangeness out of it. I know we are intense and painstaking about the way we make granola, but making granola is still not rocket-science. Neither is job training. What I always find mysterious in our kitchen (though I know we’ve also been painstaking about creating this atmosphere too) is the laughter shared by a group of trainees and staff who don’t even share a language. This is always the thing that reassures me that we are doing something right. But please take this as an open invitation. These tours are part of our mission to connect more people with refugees. Our organization may lack a lot of things, but we’re rich in relationships with former refugees and would love to share our wealth with you.

“Anyway, during that tour Scott challenged me in the style some faith leaders have perfected—encouragement that leads to self discovery. In this case, he created space for me to say something I hadn’t intended to say. The gist went something like this:

Scott (to the interns): Keith writes a [something flattering here] blog for Beautiful Day about immigration and refugee resettlement.

Me (grimacing): Oh thanks Scott. Actually I’ve hardly been writing anything this year.

Scott: Really? Why not? You should be. [Then, to the interns, some thoughts about how critical it is for people of faith to welcome refugees and what a privilege it is. Scott has a contagious enthusiasm about our city that I love.]

Me: Honestly, I feel like I’ve lost my voice over this last year. I’m really struggling with it.

Scott: You had better get it back.

“Then suddenly we all had to go.

“That was back in July and I’ve been chewing on this ever since. I’m pretty sure I intended to answer his question by complaining about how busy I am, how many hats I need to wear. These things are true and I say them all the time. Saying I lost my voice instead provoked me to think about what’s happening to or in me. Beautiful Day works with marginalized people who, for the most part, are hidden and voiceless — most obviously because they don’t speak English and don’t yet understand much about American culture, but also because they’ve had experiences of being chased away, silenced, discarded, warehoused. We live in a country that has welcomed them, yet is also growing more ambivalent and sometimes openly hostile to them. I believe we all have something critical to learn from these voices.

“So how can I possibly advocate for voiceless people if I don’t have a voice myself?

“And another thought: isn’t saying I’m voiceless another way of saying I’m afraid. What am I afraid of?

“But, okay, Scott. Thank you both for the compliment and the invitation to think. Here’s my idea. I’ll try to start writing more often. I know I need to do this right now if only because we are heading into the holiday season when we hope (need!) to sell about 75,000 dollars of granola in 3 months. These sales are vital to our training program, so I need to be connecting and resonating with our customers.

“(And, a sideways invitation here: as part of this sales initiative, we are currently launching efforts to increase traffic to our website. Part of what helps attract traffic is interaction, so if you appreciate anything in this blog and what Beautiful Day is doing, please speak up and comment either here or on our Facebook or Instagram feeds. It’s okay if you disagree as a long as you’re not trolling. A voice isn’t very real until it’s in dialogue.)

“Along the way, maybe I can try to figure this out by writing it out. I know one of my fears is that I just can’t write an Inc-style business post where I try to play the confident hipster entrepreneur and wax eloquent on how great our product is, how well we are doing, how hard we work, and which fancy apps we use. Something about who I am and about working with voiceless people makes that impossible. Nor can I promise that it will be consistent or coherent or polished. It will need to just come out of what’s in my head at that moment with what time I’ve got available. But I’ll give it a try. Maybe I’ll rely on some of the internet’s favorite formats like top 10 lists. But I’ll try to let it be a real voice. I suspect I’m not the only one trying to retrieve theirs these days.”

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Photo: Lisa Marie Summer for the New York Times
A German opera company invited current refugees to be part of its production of “Moses,” lending immediacy to the story of exile.

Powerful stories from any century speak to the human condition in any other century. Thus, for example, the story of exile in the opera “Moses” speaks to the sense of dislocation that today’s refugees experience. To drive home that point, an opera company in Germany has invited current refugees to participate in a production.

Joshua Barone reports at the New York Times, ” ‘We tell the story of Moses because it is actually our story,’ one teenager, a refugee from Afghanistan by way of Iran, said in the Hazaragi dialect to the German-speaking audience at the Bavarian State Opera here on a recent Sunday evening.

“Others chimed in: ‘The story of Moses is also my story,’ they said in French, Kurdish, Greek and Arabic.

“They were the cast of ‘Moses,’ a feel-good yet sobering new production by the Bavarian State Opera’s youth program, written for refugees, children of immigrants and born-and-raised Bavarians.

“In the opera, a mixture of new music by Benedikt Brachtel and adapted excerpts from Rossini’s “Mosè in Egitto” [“Moses in Egypt”], the teenagers tell the story of Moses — common ground for followers of the Bible, Torah and Quran — with Brechtian interludes about refugee experiences and current events.

“The director Jessica Glause, who created the libretto based on interviews with refugees in the cast, has concocted a blend of humor, horror and youthful energy that hardly feels like a didactic documentary about Europe’s refugee crisis. Behind the scenes, ‘Moses’ has provided a way to learn German and make friends — in short, to make the process of migration a little less painful. And audiences have responded favorably. …

“Theater about the refugee crisis has proliferated in Germany since migration into the country reached its peak in 2016. But rarely has the hot-button issue — which continues to threaten Chancellor Angela Merkel’s power and fuel the rise of the far-right party Alternative for Germany, or AfD — entered the realm of opera, much less children’s opera. …

“Ms. Glause, who had volunteered on boats in the Mediterranean, also wrote the libretto for ‘Noah,’ after interviewing many of the same young refugees who are in ‘Moses.’ She described the process — hearing stories of loss, danger and fear from teenagers — as acting as both an artist and a counselor.

“Among the people she spoke with were Ali Madad Qorbani, a young man from Afghanistan who fled to Iran, then Europe, after his father had disappeared; and Zahra Akhlaqi, also from Afghanistan, whose mother came to Europe first while she and her sister waited in Iran, where, she said, they were forbidden from going to school but would dress up like students at home and play pretend.

“Now, their lives are slightly more stable, though just as precarious as any refugee’s. …

“There are still monologues of how and why some of the cast members came to Europe, but much of the material is about reconciling their faiths and cultures with those of Germany — including one humorous passage about trying German beer for the first time. But they also describe how they don’t always feel welcome, such as a scene in which the plagues in Moses’s story give way to one person describing signs near Munich that say refugees overrun Germany like locusts. …

“In interviews, [youth program director Ursula Gessat] and Ms. Glause were quick to say that their job is to reflect the world around them, and that it would be irresponsible to ignore the refugee crisis. Indeed, Ms. Glause said that conservative politicians may change their minds if they met the cast of ‘Moses.’

“ ‘I would tell them to come see this show,’ she said. ‘Come hear these stories.’ ”

More at the New York Times, here.

 

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Photo: Katherine Frey/The Washington Post
Stores along Main Street in the refugee-welcoming town of Ellicott City sustained severe damage after flooding in May. Grateful refugees were determined to help out after all the kindness shown them.

Not only do refugees contribute to both the US economy and the budget, but many are eager to return kindnesses shown to them when they were first finding their way in an unfamiliar land. In this article, Syrians did some fund raising for a small, flooded town that had welcomed them. Terrence McCoy reported the story for the Washington Post.

“The first time Majd AlGhatrif saw this historic mill town of colonial buildings at the confluence of the Patapsco and Tiber rivers [in Maryland], he thought of Syria.

“The structures, built of gray stone, and the history they evoked, reminded him of the timelessness and architecture of his hometown, Sweida, in southern Syria. He soon bought a house here, in 2013, then opened Syriana Cafe & Gallery, in 2016, and came to view everything about Ellicott City’s people — their kindness and decency — as an antidote to the fear others were expressing over Syrian immigrants like him.

“So when floods again ripped through here in May, killing a Maryland National Guardsman, closing businesses up and down its historic district and producing images of destruction recalling the floods of 2016, he vowed to do anything he could to help a community that had become his own.

“The result of that vow came to fruition [September 22] at Syriana, where he presented the city with a check for $10,000, which he had raised from Syrian Americans from all over the country who had seen the destruction and wanted to show their gratitude not just to Ellicott, but also to the United States for accepting them.

We wanted this to be a payback from Syrian Americans to a generous America,’ said AlGhatrif, a physician at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, handing an oversize check to community leaders.

“The check was a rare bit of good news in a city that has survived 246 years but is now reckoning with its own mortality — one more town grappling with existential questions, as the globe warms and natural disasters increase in frequency and ferocity. …

“The community is considering a sweeping $50 million plan to mollify future damage from flooding, but it would require the demolishment of as many as 19 buildings, cleaving out a piece of history in a city whose livelihood to a large degree depends on that very history.

“What we have to realize is that if we don’t do something, the town will die,” said Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman (R). … After the last flood, he said, ‘the calculus changed.’

“AlGhatrif witnessed that firsthand. … He knew that the community meant a lot not just to him, but also to other Syrian immigrants and refugees. His cafe employed several who, after years of fear during the Syrian war, had come to feel safe in Ellicott City.

“One was Safa Alfares, 17. She was born in Aleppo, whose scenes of war and bodies still dominate her thoughts. [She] had arrived expecting to face Islamaphobia. …

“But as she learned English, in which she became fluent in less than two years, and after she found a job at Syriana, her sense of foreboding gave way to something she had not experienced since the beginning of the war: calm.”

This is such a touching story. Read more here.

Hat tip: @bostonmigration ‏on twitter.

 

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Photo: Kurdistan 24
There are many strays in the Kurdistan Region, with few resources available for animal care and protection. In a refugee camp, a young man whose veterinary education was cut off by war does what he can with what he’s got.

Although it’s true that some refugees are crushed by loss and dislocation, others face up cheerfully to the way things are. A story from Kurdistan24, a television station, provides a moving example.

With contributions from Chiman Adil, Nadia Riva reports from Erbil, “A young Syrian Kurdish refugee has been appealing for other animal-lovers to help in bettering the fate of stray animals in the Kurdistan Region while running a veterinary clinic in a camp.

“Ayaz, a Syrian Kurd living in the Kawergosk camp near the Kurdistan Region’s capital of Erbil, fled the civil war which has been plaguing his country for nearly eight years.

“Before popular Syrian protests erupted across Damascus and other cities, Ayaz was a fourth-year student at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. The conflict, however, prevented him from completing his studies, with universities closing down and violence spreading. …

“Ayaz sought refuge in the Kurdistan Region, as hundreds of thousands of other Syrian Kurds have done, but did not let his situation affect his care of animals. … He has called for the promotion of animal rights at the camp, hoping to raise awareness and change the culture among the newer generation toward animals. … Ayaz has rescued cats, birds, turtles, and rabbits, which he keeps in his shelter at the Kawergosk camp.”

On twitter, Glenn Greenwald has been trying to raise money for this cash-strapped operation. You may remember that I wrote about Greenwald’s own animal-welfare efforts last month in a post describing how he hires homeless people to care for stray dogs.

More here.

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Photo: Daniella Cheslow/NPR
Jeff Britten stands in the doorway of the Baptist chapel in Haverfordwest, Wales, where he meets regularly with other members of his group sponsoring a refugee family. The name of the group is Croeso Hwlffordd, or Welcome Haverfordwest in Welsh.

What can I say? There are kind people everywhere. This story is about the efforts of residents of a small village in Wales to welcome refugee families from Syria. It’s not necessarily an easy thing to do — there are so many differences in experience and culture. But these people knew it was the right thing to do.

Daniella Cheslow writes at National Public Radio, “Back in February, Jeff Britten sent a description of Haverfordwest, his town of 13,000 people in southwestern Wales, to a family of Syrian refugees living in Jordan.

” ‘I ran around town and took pictures of the castle, the best bits, the River Cleddau,’ Britten says. ‘I produced a map which showed the location of the house, and that everything was in walking distance, supermarkets, schools, a mosque. It was all there for them.’

“He hoped the family, whom he contacted with the help of the Home Office, which controls U.K. immigration, would come live in Wales. At that stage, he knew little about them, only that they were Syrians recognized as refugees by the United Nations.

“Britten is 71 and retired from the pharmaceutical industry. The idea to reach out to Syrian refugees came in late 2016, when he heard that two other Welsh villages had adopted refugees from the country, and he called a meeting in a Baptist chapel in his own town to inspire his neighbors to do the same. …

“The refugees have come to Wales as part of a community sponsorship program that began in the U.K. in 2016. A group of British citizens can commit to providing refugees help with housing, navigating schools and doctors, language and the job search.

“Twenty-five Syrian refugee families have arrived and been settled so far in the U.K. via community sponsorship; of those, six families went to Wales. …

“In Haverfordwest, about 30 residents answered Britten’s call and signed up to sponsor the newcomers. … Jenny Blackmore had worked with Syrian refugees in the nearby town of Narberth and noticed that housing was often a stumbling block to fulfilling the government’s conditions. Landlords had to keep their homes open while the Home Office processed the resettlement application, and the government paid a lower rental rate than the market could offer.

“Blackmore’s mother had recently died and left her an inheritance. She invested it in a three-bedroom, two-story rowhouse in the center of Haverfordwest, with the aim of housing a refugee family.

” ‘I decided it would be a sort of fitting legacy, really, to my mum and dad’s memory, to do something — yeah, it’s an investment for my family, but it’s also a kind of investment in people’s lives,’ she says.”

More here.

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Photo: Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe
Volunteers try to find housing and employment opportunities for asylum seekers in Arlington, Cambridge, and Somerville, Mass. Refugees have government-approved supports. Asylum seekers have nothing.

In the last couple years, since I’ve been volunteering in ESL classes, I have learned there is a differences between refugees, who arrive in this country fully vetted and eligible for official support, and asylum seekers.

Asylum seekers are generally fleeing persecution and danger. One woman I heard about knew that the government in her country intended to arrest her after disappearing her husband for his vocal opposition. When she arrived here, she had nothing.

Numerous groups of US citizens are now organizing to help such people.

Zipporah Osei reports at the Boston Globe, “With more attention than ever on the crisis and issues of immigration, Fowkes knew what he needed to do was to effect direct change. …

“Said Fowkes, “I wanted to do more than just mail a check to an organization. I wanted to have a hand in changing someone’s life.’

“Fowkes and his wife joined ArCS Cluster, a group of volunteers helping refugees and asylum seekers in Arlington, Cambridge, and Somerville. The group started in the spring of 2016 as an arm of the Malden-based nonprofit Refugee Immigration Ministry, with a mission of helping through person-to-person connection

“Asylum seekers come to the United States to escape issues such as war, persecution, or domestic violence. Once here, they must apply for asylum and then wait at least five months to apply for a work permit.

“While they wait to be approved, individuals can lack access to medical care and face housing insecurity and social barriers that make the process even more difficult. The group attempts to make the transition as smooth as possible. …

“The cluster, which has over 250 members with roughly 50 active volunteers, provides services to asylum seekers from countries including Saudi Arabia, Libya, Liberia, and Rwanda. It is the first explicitly LGBT-friendly cluster in the Refugee Immigration Ministry. Although the cluster was formed out of First Parish Unitarian Universalist of Arlington, all volunteers are welcome whether or not they are affiliated with any religious organization. …

“For many of the volunteers, the connections made with asylum seekers are long-lasting.

“ ‘I have so enjoyed forming relationships with these people. We develop friendships together,’ said [Sarah Trilling, co-coordinator]. …

“The cluster helps the asylum seekers in seemingly small ways as well. After finding out that one of their guests was uncomfortable taking the bus late at night, volunteers took turns driving her home from appointments.

“ ‘They support me morally and financially. This is a blessed group,’ she said of the coordinating team. ‘I love them for all they do.’

“Fowkes and his wife, who live in Medford, have been members of First Parish for more than 20 years. He recently retired and felt he had more time to invest in charity work. The experience of housing an asylum seeker has also had a positive impact on him.

“ ‘This kind of work suits me,’ said Fowkes. ‘You can do a small thing for a great many people or you can do a huge thing for one person, and I just know I’m making a tremendous impact on someone’s life.’

“The couple took in an asylum seeker who had been living on the street. The guest has been living with the pair for more than a year now. The three have dinner together every night, and the couple has introduced him to his family and friends. Fowkes said they have formed a deep connection.

“ ‘He introduces me to people as his American dad,’ said Fowkes.”

More.

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Photo:  Diana Markosian / Magnum Photos
Yazidi refugee children are overcoming fear of the water in Germany.

One reason I was interested in the following story is that I have worked with Yazidi refugees from Iraq like these. One of the people in the family I know actually has relatives in Germany, where the story takes place.

Philip Oltermann writes at the Guardian, “When Hanan Elias Abdo looked over the side of the rubber boat into the deep blue sea, she could make out two large shapes, moving at speed. Were those dolphins? Or sharks? ‘Did you see the fishes?’ she shouted at her siblings.

“Six-year-old Sulin, the youngest, … was lying on top of a thin patch on the boat’s floor and could feel the water moving underneath her. At home, in the Sinjar mountains in Iraq, she had never more than splashed through an ankle-deep brook. What if the floor gave way and she got pushed into the bottomless depths? What, she thought, if the fishes started nibbling at her feet?

“That was in September 2015. Two and a half years later, Sulin stands atop a starting block in northern Germany, takes a two-step run-up, waggles her arms and legs mid-air, before landing in the 2-metre-deep turquoise water and splashing her giggling sisters who are paddling near the edges. Surfacing, she pulls a funny face at the man with the white beard and white slippers applauding her from the side of the pool. ‘That’s it!’ says Günter Schütte, Germany’s first swimming instructor to specialise in helping to cure refugees’ fear of water.

“Schütte is a teacher with 40 years’ experience teaching politics and sport at schools in Wolfsburg, and a passionate swimmer since he was 13. Throughout his career, he says with pride, he made sure that by the end of the school year there was never a non-swimmer in any of his classes. …

“When Schütte realised that many refugees who arrived in Wolfsburg were families from countries with little open water, and that many children had been traumatised by the journey across the Mediterranean, he decided that swimming could become a tool for better integration.

“From October 2015, he booked a two-hour slot every Sunday at a municipal swimming pool and handed out flyers advertising the course at asylum seekers’ shelters in the area. …

” ‘We take our time,’ he says, ‘because when you are scared, time-pressure is the last thing you need.’

“The purpose of the course was to help the new arrivals ease into an unfamiliar element – in a metaphorical sense, too. ‘By learning how to swim, refugees are no longer shut out from the sports lessons at school,” Schütte says. ‘Some of them also get a head start on their German peers – they have a sense of achievement.’ …

“Sinjar province, where Hanan, Helin and Sulin, now nine years old, grew up, is a traditional stronghold of the Yazidi minority who were declared infidels by al-Qaida and actively targeted by Isis in 2014. Helin, now 12, recalls a phone call late that summer from her grandmother, who lived in the next valley along: Isis fighters were approaching and the villagers had run out of ammunition. …

“There was no time to wait any longer. Their mother, the six siblings and a neighbouring couple all piled into a single car and headed for the Turkish border, leaving behind the two family goats and the cherry and orange trees in their garden. Months later, after crossing the Mediterranean and seven different countries, someone sent Helin a photograph of their village. ‘The war had flattened everything,’ she says. …

“For now, the pool can suspend the pressures bearing on them outside. … Hanan wants to go a step further and get the rescue swimming badge in silver, for which she has to take a jump from a 3-metre board, swim 25 metres underwater in one breath, and rescue a drowning person with pull stroke. Asked what she wants to do when she grows up, she doesn’t take long to come up with an answer. ‘I want to become a sports teacher.’ ”

More here.

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