Ruth* takes pleasure in doing simple things other parents may take for granted. One of the most notable is she can drive her kids to soccer practices, school and community service events without worrying about being stopped by law enforcement. But the joy and freedom Ruth experiences from taking her children to their activities may be in jeopardy.
Ruth came to the United States at age nine. Since she arrived, she always lived in fear of being separated from her family due to her legal status in this country. She was young when she made the U.S. her home and didn’t understand all the legal challenges she would later face.
Ruth says she was always forced to live in the shadows, not being able to fully socialize with other kids. She knew from a young age she could not do or enjoy the same activities they did, including simple things like going on road trips with her family.
As an adult, Ruth’s situation got even worse. She was not able to continue with her dream of going to college and becoming a prominent lawyer or working for law enforcement. In fact, she could not even obtain a simple job or drive, much less take trips with her kids or go to an emergency room without being asked for identification.
Hanadi, Mohammed and Wafa cross over to independence
Hanadi, Mohammed and Wafa
Born in Damascus.
Living in Cairo.
Hanadi ran a homemade perfume business with her husband. Mohammed owned one of the country’s most successful engine repair shops. Wafa’s hair salon boasted five employees. In Syria, they were prosperous business people. But war and bombing forced them to flee their homes and businesses for the unknown of Egypt, where jobs are scarce — and discrimination and legal obstacles rampant.
Catholic Relief Services helps refugees through a project that provides business and legal training, and grants startup capital. Participants write business plans, and can take supplemental vocational training to bolster their technical skills. They receive ongoing legal and technical support. The project supports refugees and asylum seekers from all nationalities living in Egypt, but a significant proportion are Syrians.
“The goal is to go beyond short-term help and give refugees the tools and resources they need to become productive, self-reliant members of Egyptian society,” explains Yumiko Texidor, who oversees the project.
Kemal points refugees in the right direction
Kemal El Shairy
Born in Serbia.
Living in Serbia.
As the chief translator for Catholic Relief Services in Serbia, Kemal El Shairy is on the frontlines of our humanitarian response to the European refugee crisis.
A Ph.D. student in international relations at the University of Belgrade, El Shairy helps people at the heavily trafficked border crossings better understand their legal circumstances and potential next steps.
“I only ask that people try to put themselves in others’ shoes. What would you do if this happened to you?”
“We are on call nonstop. People coming through need information. Many times they don’t know where they are, or they’re not sure if they’re going to be arrested, or registered, or whether they’ll be allowed to leave. So our main job is to explain things to them,” El Shairy says.
Ali oversees deadly drought
Born in Somaliland.
Living in Somaliland.
“Even all the camels are dying,” says Ali Hugur, the mayor of Bali-Shireh, a district about a 3-hour drive south of Somaliland’s capital, Hargeisa, on the border with Ethiopia. “We’ve lost 70% of the camels, with the 30% remaining in terrible condition.” He adds that, in all his 59 years, he’s never seen such a horrific drought.
Drought-stricken Somaliland is little known to most people. It is a self-declared republic, independent of Somalia, but recognized by no other state, including Somalia.
According to the United Nations, 6.2 million people—more than half the country, and a number equal to the state of Massachusetts—are going hungry. Some 185,000 children could die of starvation if they don’t receive urgent medical attention within weeks. Meanwhile, there hasn’t been a good rain in over 2 years. And there are few aid agencies present.
Normally, families would be dispersed across the region, herding their animals toward good pasture and water, and pitching their homes of makeshift tents wherever they drove their animals. Now they are climate migrants, with camps springing up at an elementary school with a well, the only water for miles.
Gustavo waits to start over
Born in Colombia.
Living in Ecuador.
Colombia’s six-decade conflict between the government and Revolutionary Armed Forces continues to be one of the worst humanitarian crises in the Western Hemisphere. Armed guerilla groups, drug traffickers and human traffickers have forced millions of people—many of them poor—from their homes. An estimated 250,000 Colombian refugees have sought refuge in Ecuador.
Gustavo was a watch and jewelry maker in Colombia. Earlier this year, a group of men came into his workshop and took expensive gold and silver jewelry without paying. They returned a few days later and demanded more. But when Gustavo explained that he needed money for materials, they assaulted him and sent a threatening letter to his home.
He moved with his mother to his sister’s house, but the same group—known for kidnappings and extortion—found him. Without stopping at his workshop to retrieve his tools, he herded his family — sister Martha, niece Luisa and mother, Clara — onto a bus, rode it to the end of the line, then found someone to take them to Ecuador.
Abdullahi breaks bread with new neighbors
Born in Somalia.
Living in Maine.
In Scarborough, Maine, Catholic and Muslim families shared a “Building Bridges Dinner.” The dinner was hosted by St. Maximilian Kolbe Church in late February 2016. For Abdullahi Ali, who is a native of Somalia and one of the organizers, breaking bread with neighbors is important for the community.
The idea for the dinner was proposed by Monsignor Michael Hencham more than a year ago after he heard a radio story about the anxiety and fear that many Americans have about Muslims resettling in the U.S. Members of both the Muslim and Catholic communities sharing responsibility for cooking the main courses in the parish kitchen. Others brought potluck-style dishes.
With more than 250 people in attendance, new and old acquaintances learned about each other’s lives and cultures – and saw their perceptions of each other change.
Toc gives refugees a voice
Born in Thailand.
Living in Oregon.
Toc, the Program Director of Catholic Charities Oregon, was born in a refugee camp in Thailand. Life was not easy. “When I was younger, I was so embarrassed. In school… I dreaded career day. You know how embarrassing it is in class to say that your parents don’t speak English, don’t know how to read or write, and they clean up after people? So I lied! I said they cater!”
“When I see refugees standing there with their light luggage, I know it’s the very beginning, and the sky is the limit.”
After her father passed away, Toc became increasingly reflective about her Laotian roots and her parents’ sacrifices. “I don’t know how my parents did it. I don’t care how many fancy degrees I have or what fancy title I hold, it will never amount to what they went through. They didn’t speak English. They cleaned toilets, proudly. They raised six kids. The three girls went to college, the three boys went in and out of prison. When people say that’s unsuccessful, I say, ‘No, that’s pretty darn successful.’
“When I go to the airport, it’s hard not to see my family’s journey unfold in front of me. When I see refugees standing there with their light luggage, I know it’s the very beginning, and the sky is the limit. In some ways, I really worry about them, and in other ways, I am excited for them because I know they are going to make it. Because we did.”
Hiat, a mother on the run
Born in Hama, Syria.
Living in the Athens.
Just a few years ago, Hiat had a husband, a home and a future. Today, she is in her thirties, a mother of six – and a widow. Her late husband is one of tens of thousands of civilian casualties of the 5-year old civil war in Syria.
Before the war, Hiat lived with her family in the Syrian town of Hama. Her family lived a quiet, middle-class life. Muhammad, her oldest child, went to school, did his homework, and played tennis and soccer.
But things for Hiat and her family began to fall apart when the war started. The city of Hama is north of the city Homs, where some of the most intense and brutal fighting has taken place. Following the death of her husband, Hiat decided to leave Syria. With the war raging around them, there was so little food that people were starving. Like the structures around them, any semblance of community or society had collapsed.
Traveling to Europe without a male companion is not only difficult for a woman, it is dangerous. Smugglers are known to take vast sums of money from refugees for transportation when a cheap bus ticket would suffice. Hiat fears that some of her children might not survive the hazardous journey that many Syrians make to ultimately reach safe havens in Germany or Sweden.