Faces of Migration
Today's refugee crisis has pushed more than 80 million people to grapple with life or death decisions around fleeing their homes to escape war, violence, and persecution. The journey of migration is fueled with the unknown, as refugees face discrimination, racism, and separation from loved ones in order to seek stability, safety, and opportunity.
On World Refugee Day 2019, Oxfam partnered with refugees to tell their stories to US congressional members, advocating for the National Origin-Based Anti-discrimination for Nonimmigrants (NO BAN) Act, a policy that repeals President Trump's Muslim ban and limits the ability for any possible future bans. The legislation is supported by more than 90 members of Congress, almost 400 diverse civil rights, faith, national security and community organizations, as well as private companies and more than 50 immigration law professors.
Maydelli migrated to the US from Mexico over 30 years ago as a young child. Her parents made the difficult decision to leave their home in search of better opportunities for Maydelli's future.
The DREAM Act has allowed Maydelli to obtain a Bachelor's degree and pursue her dreams in becoming an entrepreneur that gives back to her community.
"As a Dreamer, it's been difficult to navigate the challenges and uncertainties of our country's political climate. To me, America represents the land of the free where everyone has an opportunity to thrive. Our country was created by hard working immigrants seeking equality."
Here, Maydelli stands in front of the White House in Lafayette Square on World Refugee Day in 2019. The Trump Administration aims to rescind the DACA program, which has protected over 700,000 Dreamers from deportation.
Fidel, author and poet
“If anyone asks me who I am, I say I’m a Congolese-American. Today, I’m proud to say I’m an American citizen. I was forced to leave the Democratic Republic of Congo on my own in 1999 when I was about 13 years old. The rebels invaded my home city during the Second Congo War while I was at school and we were all immediately forced to run away and not return. I was with four other friends, crossing through several countries and ended up settling in a Zimbabwe refugee camp. When I arrived in Zimbabwe I lied about my age –saying I was 16 -so I would be put in a refugee camp with people who spoke my language rather than being adopted by a Zimbabwean family.
I was in and out of Zimbabwe for over seven years, traveling through Botswana, South Africa and Zambia for refuge. I found my way back to Zimbabwe but the government arrested me and wanted imprisoned or deported.The UN came to my defense, resettling me to the US after the government gave them an ultimatum of 48 hours.
My expectations and spirits were so high that things would be different for me in the US. But once I arrived, reality hit me hard that America is just like anywhere else in the world. A place where you must deal with hate, hardship and struggle. The first two years in the US were actually the hardest of my life. I was resettled to Boise, Idaho and dealt with a lot of discrimination –it was very traumatic. I didn’t know how to deal with it and had a nervous breakdown, ending up in a mental facility for one week. It took about one year of intensive counseling and a strong support system I thankfully found for me to finally find my way. Coming to the states was such a learning experience for me. All of these moments taught me that people are people no matter where you are –you must deal with the good and bad. I had no clue the hate and stereotypes I’d have to fight against here.
But that dark moment actually transformed me into the person I have become today –a writer and social justice activist. Writing became the outlet for me to express my problems and share my thoughts with others. It helped me to speak out against discrimination and injustices that so many people face on a daily basis.
To me, America means freedom. I can speak my mind without fear, stand up for myself, work and provide for my family –I didn’t have those opportunities as a refugee in Africa. It took me five years after my arrival to gain my US citizenship and I feel so embolden that I understand the US government system from the process. While we are seeing a rise with hate and discrimination in our society today,I’m not scared. The foundation and core of this country’s constitution allows us to stand up for andspeak out on our rights, which is what gives me hope for our future.”
Don, father and attorney
What does the word refugee mean to you? To Vietnamese refugee Don Nguyen, the word "refugee" means struggle, life, perseverance, love, human, self.
Here, he stands with his son in front of the Library of Congress on World Refugee Day in 2019.
Born into a large Catholic family in the coastal town of Nha Trang, Vietnam, Don's father worked for the American Consulate. In April of 1975, his family was forced to evacuate their home due to the North Vietnamese Communist force advancement during the Vietnam War.
After living in three refugee camps, his family resettled in Madrid, Iowa.
Their new life there felt exciting, new, and different but also full of difficult challenges. The family faced language barriers, discrimination, and systemic racism.
Don attended Madrid High School and was the first non-white student to graduate in its hundred year history, advancing on to graduate with a Bachelor's degree from Iowa State University, later obtaining his JD in California.
Today, Don has been practicing law for over 20 years as an attorney in criminal defense, working with disadvantaged, marginalized immigrant communities.
Habiba, community navigator
“My family and I were forced to flee our home in Angola due to the war when I was just two years old. We bounced around a lot of African refugee camps for eight years before getting the opportunity to resettle to America.I remember in a Zambian refugee camp we barely had enough to eat, living in mud huts that would wash away during rainstorms. We lived there for one year before traveling by foot to South Africa, hitching rides from strangers. After the South Africa xenophobia attacks in 2008, my family lost everything we had and placed in another camp. Fearing for our lives, we applied for resettlement with the UN and after five years, got approved to resettle in the US.My father was a single parent raising six kids on his own during this entire period, struggling to make ends meet and keeping his family safe. He’s the reason I am who I am today.
Living in America is a dream come true for me, but it hasn’t been easy. Being the land of opportunities, freedom and individual rights, we were able to rebuild our lives in the US from nothing.I wasn’t able to finish my education in Africa, so when I was pregnant I went back to school to become a midwife while my husband worked night shifts to support our family. Today, I get to live through my passion of helping others in my community working at Minnesota Council of Churches as a Community Navigator.
I want Americans to understand that being a refugee is not an option. A refugee is a person fleeing danger, violence or prosecution seeking a better life. While starting fresh in a new country isn’t easy, I celebrate my struggles –they have made me the person I am today.”
Here, Habiba stands in the park on US Capitol grounds on World Refugee Day 2019.
Abdi, writer and speaker
Abdi defines the word "refugee" as hope, resilience and persistence.
"Who else would walk hundreds of miles, or risk crossing borders with small children to find a safe home?," he says.
Author of the award winning book, "Call me American," Abdi fleed from his home in Somalia alone due to the incessant violence and Islamic extremism taking hold during the Somali Civil War in 2011.
Smuggling himself into Kenya, Abdi became a refugee, hiding silently in apartments from Kenyan police raids for five years. In 2014, Abdi came to the US through the annual Green Card lottery program.
Today, Abdi is a proud and legal resident of Maine, attending the University of Maine while working on a film and advocating for the rights of refugees everywhere.
Here, Abdi stands in front of the US Capitol on World Refugee Day in 2019.
“For people who see migrants and refugees as a danger, I ask that they reevaluate the source of where their fear came from. Fear as an emotion is normal but I challenge people to analyze the way they respond to fears. Feeling threatened about a group of people is a behavior we learn; it’s passed on from misrepresentations seen in the media and misconceptions inherited from family or friends. I immigrated to the US at a really young age from El Salvador and currently have Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Just being a woman would be enough to get me killed there. I have tremendous gratitude for the U.S. -a place that I lived my childhood and now adulthood life. Growing up in Virginia, this country represents nearly everything to me: family, friends, loved ones, my past, and my future.I don’t have any illusions about a perfect nation, but I have invested my heart and energy in contributing to the U.S.’s future. I’m an educator and poet, and I believe that to shape a nation’s future, its people must have training in love, literature, and politics.I call myself a “word warrior” because I’ve chosen language as a way to resist oppression and over the years, I’ve seen words move people to take action. Poetry is my response to social injustice.
Right now, the Presidential candidates need to be talking about the root causes of migration and get serious about immigration reform. The lives of immigrants are not a game. I feel like politics are interfering with my community’s sense of physical safety, and at times, policy is placing my community in actual danger. But at the same time, I take comfort in the power of community. On hard days, I take a look at immigration advocates, many of them immigrants themselves, and feel powerful and hopeful for our future."
Here, Claudia stands by the reflecting pool in Washington, D.C. on World Refugee Day in 2019.
Tariq, fitness coach
“I traveled from Syria to the US in October 2011 for a work conference. My stay was supposed to be only two weeks, but sadly it was too dangerous for me to return home to Syria. I came with only $1,000 and the clothes I packed for the conference. I didn’t know what to do and had no family here. A friend who I had met when working in #Syria who told me I could stay at her parent’s place in Richmond, VA if I ever needed help. I was lucky enough to stay there for about 10 days and was connected to someone at Human Rights First who took my case to lawyers and covered all my fees. Thankfully, I was granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and then later asylum.
The vetting process to become a citizen was long, hard and intensive. Seven years, two months and twenty-three days. That’s how long it took me to get my US citizenship. I joke the US government knows more about me than my mother. Today, I am proud to finally say I am a US citizen.
I’ve always felt at home in the US because I had no where to go. It hasn’t always been easy here and I’ve worked very hard but the US allows me to make achievements with my business ideas and build a life for myself. When I first started out, I worked 90 hours a week to be able to start my fitness business. Now, I’ve established myself as a fitness coach.
I’ve done all of this on my own - I haven’t been able to see some of my siblings in over eight years. When President Trump issued the Muslim Ban, he killed every chance I had to see them again. For over seven years as a TPS, Asylum, then a Green Card holder, I was unable to travel to see them because getting back to the #US was nearly impossible. Now as a US citizen, I met my parents and some of my siblings but I still am unable to see the rest of my family.
Even when the #MuslimBan took issue, I never lost hope. Watching people march in the street and lawyers heading to the airports, it made me feel that no one person or political party can destroy America’s culture. That’s one of the reasons why America is so great – having the freedom to stand up and fight for your rights and what you believe in.”