How do refugee stories begin?
For some of our displaced friends, their stories begin like a fairy tale: “Our lives were beautiful”; “I had a big house, a garden, plenty of money, private schools for my children”; “I lived like a king in a high rise building that stood in a road named after my family”; “I had a car, a motor cycle, and a hunting dog”; “I was an engineer”; “I was a journalist”; “I was a professor”; “I was a surgeon.”
Our Lives Before
Until there is a tragic turn in the narrative: “Then one day, I received a threatening letter from the Taliban”; “Then one day, my husband was abducted by members of a vicious gang”; “Then one day, ISIS”; “Then one day, bombs.
Why We Flee
For others of our friends, their stories have always been ones of peril and persecution, danger and destitution, fleeing and fighting. “Our country has been at war for forty years”; “My family has only known hardship”; “I have been on the run since I was fourteen when both of my parents were executed”; “Our lives were in danger no matter what we did. If we worked for either of the Taliban groups, the government would arrest us; but if we worked for the government, the Taliban would arrest us. We have always been refugees.”
But one thing is common across all the stories: These are real women and men, real parents and grandparents, real children and the elderly — real people with the same need for survival, love, and meaning that all people have. Then one day, the probability of death outweighed the likelihood of anything else.
A bag on their back and a baby in their arms—or a baby on their back and a bag in their arms—they fled. They turned from all they knew, all they had built, all they held dear, and faced in a new direction. And they simply started walking. Step after step, they inched toward the Total Unknown.
The scope of today’s global migration —from Middle Eastern and African countries to Europe, from Burma to Bangladesh, from Venezuela to Colombia, from the Northern Triangle of Central America into the USA — is staggering. Wherever one looks, the names might change, but the dangers are eerily alike. For instance, every border between Afghanistan to Turkey—the farthest west point on the map before Greece, the edge of Europe—like every border between Honduras to Texas—is a showdown with death. Smugglers and kidnappers lie in wait, or border patrols prowl with flood lights and machine guns and orders to arrest and imprison or, in some cases, to shoot to kill. Undeterred and desperate, people take desperate measures to save themselves and their families.
Most of us don’t stop to consider the risks refugees take and the daunting distances they travel to reach safety.
But consider this: An Afghan family from Kabul seeking refuge in Frankfurt Germany would have to walk almost 4300 miles (6900 km), cross 10,000 ft. mountain ranges, over rivers, across deserts, and make a treacherous sea crossing between Turkey and Greece in an overloaded, unseaworthy glorified rubber raft manned by smugglers who charge obscene prices per head. That distance—from Kabul to Frankfurt—is the equivalent of walking from Boston, MA. to San Diego, CA, then up the west coast, past Seattle, WA., and to the Canadian border.
And an asylum-seeker fleeing the vise grip of drug cartels and gangs who have infiltrated the police and government in El Salvador will walk 2,800 miles (4,400 km) and will pay coyotes, or human smugglers, to guide them across Mexico’s vast and treacherous deserts.
As the world experiences a steady and steep increase in the sheer number of refugees, we are simultaneously witnessing an equally precipitous upsurge of false narratives about refugees. Fear-based and alarm-inducing stories question who these people are, why they are on the run, what their intentions are, whether they ought to have claim on the basic human right of safety, and how the strongest nations are — or are not — morally obligated to respond to humanity’s most vulnerable.
Their Story is Our Story works hand-in hand with refugees themselves to document and share their firsthand narratives, fueled by the conviction that the first-person refugee voice—clear and true and authoritative— is the ultimate engine for social transformation.
The right kind of stories educate us. They embolden our advocacy and generate meaningful change. Collaborative, interpersonal relationships are the seedbed for individual and communal progress.
We strive to change the perception and the reception of refugees through these one-on-one dialogues.
Our hope is that you will find stories that inform, edify, and spur a desire toward individual engagement with and advocacy for refugees in your vicinity and perhaps even across the global landscape. As you follow these stories to their bedrock, you might discover what we have: that all stories no matter how varied, cohere in one human story. There is no them, only us. Their story is our story.