San Diego – All too often immigration is associated with illegal crossing of the southern borders, however, taking refuge in America legally is a long road, but possible.
One such legal route is sought through International Rescue Committee, a nonprofit organization that relocates thousands of refugees throughout the United States. This year alone the U.S. will take in close to 80,000 refugees.
Most in this country do not know the true meaning of the word refugee says, Eleyce Northcraft a volunteer outreach coordinator with the IRC. “The U.N has strict guidelines with the definition. A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence.”
Around the globe there are an estimated 42 million refugees, but only 14 million have status through the United Nations. “The need is so great for assistance that it is hard to get the paperwork processed,” Northcraft said.
In fact refugees often have to wait in oppressive refugee camps for more than five years before they are able to reach the safe haven of the U.S. “Those are five long years to wait without hope,” Northcraft explains. “The paperwork required to reach their last chance home requires a lot of patience. However, once the refugees arrive, their hard work is not over.”
The long journey to America has an unlikely beginning. Once the legal path is established, the refugees must take out a loan and purchase their expensive international airplane tickets. The IRC believes this step gives the refugees a stake in their new life.
When the refugees land in the U.S., the hard work of acclamation ensues. “The day after they arrive they need to report to the IRC center and fill out even more paperwork,” Northcraft said.
All refugees are required to obtain a social security card, get a job and most importantly learn how to survive in America. “Most of the refugees don’t know how to get along in a highly-technological society,” according to Northcraft. “Some of these refugees come from third world countries and have never even seen an ATM card let alone know how to use it.”
Part of the acclamation process includes learning to speak English, tackle the public transportation system and learn how to maintain their apartment on a monthly basis. “The families need to enroll their children in public schools, learn how to not be intimidated in the grocery stores and figure out how to get by in a new country,” Northcraft explained.
Upon arriving in this country the refugees are provided with a fully-furnished apartment, stocked with all the necessities (like beds, toiletries and food) and money to get by. Depending on their circumstances, they have up to eight months to establish a lively hood and make it on their own.
During this time the IRC spends endless hours teaching English classes. “This task is often an arduous task because many of the adults have never been in a classroom,” Northcraft said. “But learning the language is crucial to their success.”
Northcraft also points out that approximately 80 percent of IRC refugees do become fully integrated within the U.S. “Most of these people realize this is their last chance and they have the pride to succeed.”
Placement within the U.S. is also taken into consideration. For example, San Diego receives a lion’s share of Iraqis because it has a large community already established. “This makes it much easier for new families to adjust. If they are able to communicate in their home language and have some sort of familiar cultural practices, they are more likely to transition into American society,” Northcraft said.
Finally the IRC states the refugees do not come here for a free ride, they are motivated to be here and know this is really their last opportunity. In fact, 50 percent of the IRC’s employees are former refugees themselves. “Their language skills are certainly in high demand in this country,” Northcraft concludes.
A refugee’s freedom doesn’t come easily, but in America many things are possible when you respect the law. And with the IRC‘s help, the refugees journey; from harm to home is complete.