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18 June 2010

This Sunday: Father’s Day and World Refugee Day

(To protect the identity of the woman mentioned in this story, we have changed her name to ensure her privacy.)

This weekend, many will celebrate grads and dads as we head into another summer season. But Sunday will also mark World Refugee Day, which commemorates both refugees and those committed to assisting them.

For USCIS employees, World Refugee Day is of particular importance. Many of our colleagues are dedicated to identifying, interviewing, and assisting refugees. This weekend, we thought the best way to mark World Refugee Day would be to highlight one woman’s journey.

From Angola to St. Louis: One Refugee's Father's Day Story

Elena's story begins in Angola, where her parents met and married. Her father was politically active, and as the country descended into an increasingly vicious civil war after gaining independence from Portugal, her family faced death threats and was forced to flee. The journey took them to a refugee camp in Namibia and later to the capitol city, where the family had no official status and no real way to make a living. They later decided to travel to a refugee camp in Botswana to apply for refugee status.

"Chased by Thunderstorms"

The border between Namibia and Botswana was closed at the time, so the family of eight packed into an old pickup truck and took off over dusty roads, often chased by thunderstorms that mark the rainy season. The journey took them through Apartheid-era South Africa, where officials pulled them over and took Elena’s father away for questioning. At 8 years old, Elena says, "it was the first time I remember being afraid of anything." Fortunately, he was released the next day and the family made it to Botswana. The family lived in a refugee camp there for 2 years.

Camp Life

Elena's life as a child in Botswana did not seem particularly unusual to her at the time. Like many "poor" children, she did not realize she was poor so long as she had friends to play with and a family to come home to. She attended a makeshift school where, according to Elena, "there didn’t seem to be teachers half the time." Students sometimes had to gather firewood as a sort of price of admission so that beans could be cooked to feed the children. The family lived in huts on the frontier of a desert. Her mother would bake things to sell - even dried insects that locals snacked on to scrape out a makeshift existence. After waiting and hoping, the news finally came that they would be leaving.

Culture Shock

Elena remembers flying from a setting with few buildings and a barren climate through London and New York on her way to St. Louis. During the stop-over in London, the impressionable 10-year old saw snow for the first time. She says that the snow and the cold made her feel "like the world was ending." In New York, she remembers "getting stuck in an elevator, eating fast food, and watching The Princess Bride."

The final stop was St. Louis. Elena's family was delighted to be away from the refugee camp, and a refugee resettlement agency was there to help them move into a new home, get signed-up for school, and look for work. Being a new kid in school with little English was not always easy. Elena and her siblings relied on one another and on her parents. Elena recalls that, "with a large Afro and hand-me-down clothes," kids would pick on her and she got into her share of fights.

The initial culture shock diminished with time, and the family moved to a better home and Elena began to learn English, the fourth language that she would have to learn. Her father took the family to a local church, which provided a community they could belong to - and which has since started a program to assist refugees.

A Father's Support

She recalls how her father was key to her "getting past all the drama at school." As Elena puts it, her father said that she "was different, would always be different, and to embrace it and move on." Highly educated and politically prominent back home, her father worked in a home improvement store. He didn’t complain, supported his family, and started going back to school. He encouraged Elena to strive at school and work for a scholarship, though the family could not afford to send her with schoolmates on trips abroad. Elena attended university, and today is a successful professional. For her, Father’s Day and World Refugee Day are both important moments to reflect on this Sunday.

Sadly, Elena's father passed away of heart related problems. Elena's family continues to give back by assisting other refugees at their local church. She hopes that others do what they can to help refugees, but also points out that we have much to learn from refugees. Looking at what they have had to cope with, we can all learn about resilience, what is important in life, and how to put things into perspective.

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13 Comments:

At June 18, 2010 at 3:56:00 PM EDT , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don;t understand why there is so much hatred and ignorance toward EB and FB applicants, over the refugee and asylum who recieve endless compassions and help.

 
At June 22, 2010 at 10:03:00 AM EDT , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr.Mayorkas Please do needful

A call with the local congresswoman Lofgren's office. Lofgren's Immigration field staffer advised that it is very much possible for admin fix to recapture visas by USCIS director Mayorkas, with out involving legislation route. The request just has to come from Mayorkas office and they would give the 'go ahead' internally.

Mayorkas might be interested in doing the 'admin fix' for the following reasons:
(1) USCIS budget shortfall due to severe decline in filings - Instead of raising fees again, recapturing numbers will increase EB filings along with all its fees.
(2) Mayorkas is determined to end the nonsense status-quo and that he is willing to fix the system that has failed those who have abided by it.

Mayorkas can prove to the world that he is a good administrator and he fixed some of the long pending issues. He is still young and in the next admin shuffle, he can even become Secretary in-charge of Dept of Homeland Security.

Once he solves the existing problem, his rise in power is imminent.

 
At June 23, 2010 at 3:16:00 PM EDT , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with the above post

 
At June 27, 2010 at 3:14:00 AM EDT , Anonymous Anonymous said...

For years now i have watched the INS turn a blind eye to elegal imagration . What is wrong with this branch of our government . At one time imagants had to learn our history , speack the english launguage but now i saee hudreds of aliens that cant speak our language and look at God fearing Americans like they are trash. They fly MEXICOS flag instead of thr AMERICAN FLAG . Every nieborhood they move into they try and run true americans out of . I served my country SO WHY IS MY COUNTRY BETRAYING ME AND OTHER AMERICANS BY ALOWING THIS TRAVISTY TO TAKE PLACE. IF THEY WHANT TO LIVE IN THIS COUNTRY THEN APLLY LIKE EVERYONE EALS. The INS needs to start doing thier job and start removing thease elegals from our COUNTRY

 
At June 28, 2010 at 11:30:00 AM EDT , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi all,

Let me rename the big title here "One Refugee's Father's Day Story", "Culture Shock", "A Father's Support".
Here well, my wife was granted asylum and the I-730 (to re-unite our family with 2 daughters of 5 and 3 years old US citizens) is pending since 3 years now. I managed to travel in US with B2 (visitor) visa but now, I lost my job abroad, I can't work in the US (no possible as B2 visa) and I can't leave far from my family.
How can those case of refugee or asylum family not better study ?
- WIFE: granted status as asylum
- CHILDREN: US citizens
- FATHER: since 3 years, no status, not able to work and becoming a parasite in the family. As B2 is for a while, I need to go back abroad and stay far from my family. Of course, they can't follow me there (asylum) and I can't stay with them. THIS IS FRUSTATING !!!

 
At June 28, 2010 at 12:05:00 PM EDT , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please INITIATE the Visa ReCapture as inidcated in the previuos post- Admin Fix. Thanks

 
At June 28, 2010 at 12:40:00 PM EDT , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for a great humanitarian story, and shame on those who have to turn this into a whine and complain fest again.

To the previous poster: I kind of turned off and didn't read further after your tirade against people who do not "speack the english launguage" - please learn to speak and write the English language (*your* history and culture) before mouthing off.

 
At June 29, 2010 at 11:16:00 AM EDT , Anonymous JoeF said...

@June 27, 2010 3:14:00 AM EDT , Anonymous:

What would help is to actually get an education before trying to tell others what to do. Your post has tons and tons of spelling errors.

"At one time imagants had to learn our history , speack the english launguage"
Here's a suggestion to you: learn to speak and write the English language yourself first...
And please invest in a dictionary.

 
At July 8, 2010 at 6:32:00 PM EDT , Anonymous Anonymous said...

JoeF, you seem like a USCIS person responding to the blog. Do you have any input on whether a visa recapture request is in the plate of Mr.Mayorkas? I believe this will help both USCIS and the greater EB community who are waiting in a long line. Please respond.

 
At July 10, 2010 at 12:33:00 PM EDT , Anonymous igrezadecu said...

Very useful blog, lot of information. Really a beacon in the darkness. Thank you.

 
At August 5, 2010 at 5:51:00 PM EDT , Anonymous Blaze Smith said...

That's a very touching story. It makes me appreciate more the little things that we enjoy on a daily basis, such as our meals and utilities. We can learn so much from those refugees.

 
At August 30, 2010 at 6:06:00 AM EDT , Anonymous Kara said...

Wow, this is an incredible story! thanks for sharing!

 
At June 27, 2011 at 6:42:00 AM EDT , Anonymous Reroofing brisbane said...

Belated Happy Fathers Day to everyone. This story is really heart touching story.

 

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