How do refugee stories begin?
For many of our displaced friends, their stories begin like any other story. "I had a beautiful childhood." "I had a good job". "I was an engineer". "I was a surgeon."
Our Lives Before
But then the narrative changes: “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, their stories have always been ones of danger and persecution. “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”. “We have always been refugees.”
These are real people with the same need for survival, love, and meaning that all people have. For a refugee, the risk of death overwhelms everything else.
With a bag on their back and a baby in their arms, they flee. They turn from all they know and face in a new direction. They start walking. Step after step, they inch toward the Total Unknown.
The scope of today’s global displacement is staggering. The names and places might change, but the dangers are the same. Refugees face smugglers, kidnappers, border patrols, orders to arrest and imprison or, in some cases, shoot to kill. Despite the dangers, they 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.
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 rubber raft manned by smugglers who charge obscene prices per head. That distance 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.
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 pay coyotes (human smugglers) to guide them across Mexico’s deserts.
As the world experiences a steady increase in the number of refugees, we are simultaneously witnessing an upsurge of false narratives about refugees that question who these people are and why they are on the run. They ask 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.
Stories educate us. They embolden our advocacy which can generate meaningful change. Collaboration is 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 these stories will inform, edify, and spur a desire toward individual engagement with refugees in your vicinity and perhaps across the global landscape. As you read these personal narratives, you might discover what we have: that all stories, no matter how varied, cohere into one human story. There is no them, only us. Their story is our story.