Over the past few years I have periodically volunteered with the Lansing Refugee Development Center (RDC). During my time volunteering with them, I came to realize that I want to work with refugees for my career. I decided to write my final paper on the refugee crisis, and how the response from the United States and Europe have played a major role in either helping or hindering the crisis – mainly they have hindered. Some of the rhetoric and dialogue that has surrounded crisis has been of fear, disregard, and anger, as opposed to concern, empathy, and helpful.
The social media project was the start of my research, but I wanted to get a more firsthand account of the process to gain refugee status. Through my connection with the RDC I had the opportunity to interview two refugees, via email. To protect their anonymity I will refer to them by their first names only, which are Luke and Aung. I also did not correct any of the grammar because I did not want to diminish their voice in any way.
Question 1: What was the process like for you to gain refugee status and to resettle in the U. S.?
Luke: Because of Burma (Myanmar) civil war, my family fled to a refugee camp in Thailand in June, 1996. We neither didn’t have any plan to relocate to the United State, nor to others countries. In August, 2008, application for U.S. resettlement program was announced by UNHCR. My family applied right away. We had two interviews, one was by UN and another was by U.S. Department of State. Once we passed the interview, then, we required to have physical check. After physical check, we had to attend a training which about new life in the United States. Finally, we left refugee camp on May 19.2009. The process took my family about ten months but each family is different. Some families waited one, two or even three years.
Aung: I was urban refugee status under UNHCR office in Bangkok, 2000. I did not received any assistant from UNHCR office: cash and food. I worked for Youth Development Program in Refugee camps. In 2004, UNHCR office, Bangkok made order for all refugees who were in Bangkok under UNHCR to register for resettlement to the third countries. If you are not register in 2004, your refugee status would be dismissed. Therefore, I registered for resettlement to the third country. We, who registered in Bangkok UNHCR office sent to the nearest refugee camp to take interview and pre-health screening to resettle The United States of America. It took almost six months.
Question 2: What resources are offered or that you have used, in order to feel comfortable in your community and with the United States and the culture?
Luke: The USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishop) lend us travel cost which they paid for our flight tickets and we pay them back once we got here. When I arrived to Lansing, STVCC (ST. Vincent Catholic Charity) help us such as doctor appointment, school registration, adult ESL, finding job and other needs. We also us RDC (Refugee Development Center) for ESL and Public Library. There are different kind of help or offer by different organization.
Aung: I took Pre-oversea Orientation about American culture, and the opportunities to receive from the resettlement’s Agency before I departure to the United States of America. My friend and I got to settle to Lansing, Michigan State. One of Case Managers welcomed us at Lansing Capital airport, and dropped us to a nice one bed room. The Agency provided us furniture, house hold items, and stocked food for a week. Agency supported me to takes health screening and immunization, and looked for job.
Question 3: How do you feel about the language and conversations surrounding the presidential debate concerning refugees and migrants?
Luke: It is a shame to hear that a presidential candidate blaming on immigrants and refugees for America is weak. America is already great but not all Americans are great.
Aung: I had English language’s barrier for the first year. I studied English myself, and practice in practical field when I worked as Burmese interpreter. I object Mr. Donald Trump policy of refugee resettlement to America. I support President Obama and Mrs. Hillary Clinton’s refugee’s policy.
Question 4: Do you believe that the EU and Turkey deal is an adequate solution to the refugee crisis? If not, why?
Luke: EU and Turkey deal is a solution for EU and Turkey, Not to the refugee crisis because Middle East conflict is the main cause if refugee crisis. Especially, Syria war and IS terrorist. Not only EU and Turkey but Middle East countries and UN should take serious about Middle East conflict in order to solve the refugee crisis.
Aung: I don’t believe the EU and Turkey practicing to exchange refugees. It would not work long term. The refugees have to have the rights to choose their determination. Refugees need safety and sufficiency for their life. It should be ensured by EU and Turkey government before they make decision for refugees.
Question 5: What are your plans for the future?
Luke: My goal is to be a business owner or accountant. I am a citizen now and I plan to stay here for my whole life but November election could change my plan.
Aung: First, I plan to support my people who live in Lansing and The United States after I reach my study’s goal. Then I will support my people who are live in Burma by my capability.
Question 6: How long have you been studying English?
Luke: I have been studying English for seven years. Little by little.
Aung: I just study English two years. This semester is the fourth semester of my study English.
Question 7: What has been an obstacle to learning English?
Luke: As a son of illiterate parents, it is a huge challenge for me to have time for study because I have to take care of my family, my job and school.
Aung: My obstacle to learn English is listening skill.
Question 8: What has been most helpful in learning English?
Luke: English helps me to be able connect with people, finding jobs and get involve in communities and church.
Aung: Writing and reading learning English in LCC helps me a lot for four semester because all my instructors enthuse to teach us English.
I am a minor in Teaching in English to Speakers of Other Languages, so the last few questions were for my own curiosity, and also to show that it is a long and difficult process to learn English, which is a big part of assimilating in America. While I was only able to interview two people, I wanted to use them as a starting point for what direction I wanted the rest of my research to go. The answers they gave about the presidential rhetoric and the EU and Turkey deal were the most telling and insightful, and thus what I want to write the main body of my research paper on. The first question I want to incorporate into my paper in some way, but I am not sure in what way yet.