When the global debate over refugees takes place, the question has always been: which country (or countries) should bare the burden of caring for those who have been displaced? Two pieces today, one from the Catholic News Service and the other, Post-Bulletin of Rochester, NY portrays what life is like for refugees in the country of first refuge and then country of resettlement.

The country of first refuge is where refugees flee to after they have left their homes. Refugees often languish in refugee camps or poor urban and rural areas in these places for years at a time before they are resettled. The Catholic News Service discussed the trouble of education for many refugees in Cairo, Egypt – a place that has been known to become a haven for refugees from Africa and Middle Eastern countries.

“The Sudanese [refugees] consider Egypt a step” to resettlement in the United States, Canada or another country, said Yasmine Serry of CRS, who coordinates the program. But hopes of resettlement often are delayed or dashed, and as families struggle to adapt to life in their new home, one of the first hurdles is sending their children to school.

While Egypt has allowed many refugees to harbor in cities like Cairo, it has unfortunately been unable to accommodate for the needs of the displaced, and as a result, many refugees live in sub-standard environments and become burdens on the surrounding communities. Few countries who have served as the first country or refuge for refugees have been able to integrate them in a meaningful manner. As a result, the burden has fallen on “western” nations such as the United States, Canada, etc. While these nations have had humanitarian traditions to be countries of resettlement, where refugees are relocated after they have entered refugee camps, they cannot continue this for years to come. The “burden” of refugees cannot fall on a select few countries but all countries must work appropriately to assist and provide for those who have fled from war and conflict.

As the article in the Post-Bulletin of Rochester, NY highlights, when refugees are provided with education, they become contributing members of societies and their children have the opportunity to be part of the new resettlement nation, developing an understanding of the country’s culture and values.

Sudanese refugee Gawa Eldabas…Two years earlier, she had fled Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, to escape oppressive government control. Now, she was leaving her temporary home of Cairo, Egypt [country of first refuge], with her husband and three children…on a plane bound for the United States.

With the help of the Intercultural Mutual Assistance Association’s program in New York, refugees like Gawa Eldabas are complete programs in nursing and joining a much needed profession in the American work force while her kids are receiving an education. Instead of becoming a burden on a community like once may have been in Egypt, Gawa Eldabas and her family are adding the the diversity and economic needs of the United States because countries of resettlements are investing in those who have sought refuge within their borders.

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Refugees Among Us

October 10, 2008

Boston Globe

Nuon family and Photographer Nancy Carbonaro. Image copyright: Boston Globe

A featured article about a humanitarian photographer and a small bakery in Wellesley, Massachusetts shows many refugees in the United States contribute a great deal to the economic growth and the cultural life of their communities. The story was featured in the Boston Globe. Photographer Nancy Carbonaro was often a customer at the Nuon’s family bakery but never knew the family’s refugee background until she returned from a trip to Cambodia. What she discovered moved her a great deal:

Nuon’s family [the bakery shop owners] lived in Cambodia in the time of the Khmer Rouge, the communist party that ruled the country from 1975 to 1979. Under the leadership of Pol Pot, the regime was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million people, or roughly one-fifth of the country’s population, through torture, execution and starvation in its campaign to remake Cambodia into a radical agrarian society…

…The family’s surviving members eventually made their way to a refugee camp in the Philippines, then came to the United States in November 1982, thanks to the sponsorship of a Stoughton family who let the Nuons live in their guesthouse.

As Americans, the Nuon family wants to continue to the rich humanitarian tradition of their new home in the United States by improving the conditions of their homeland. As Mara Nuon states, “When you’ve been there, you’re not going to say, ‘I’ve made it, the hell with you.’ I’m looking for an organization where I can go and be effective, and do whatever I can do to make a difference.”

Massachusetts is estimated to have the second largest population of Cambodian refugees in the United States, where roughly 50,000 have built their homes and become a large ethnic group in cities like Lowell, Massachusetts. However, Long Beach, California has the largest Cambodian refugee populations and was the first site many were resettled to because of the cheap housing market and similar climate conditions to Cambodia.