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Dangerous Refugee or Refugees in Danger? Five Refugee Stories

On March 6, 2017, the United States government issued a revised travel ban, applicable to nationals of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Under the revised ban, the 120-day suspension of the refugee admissions stands.

Refugees might be a security threat, or so the argument goes. The Cato Institute recently took a hard look at the statistics and found:

“The chance of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack caused by a refugee is 1 in 3.64 billion per year while the chance of being murdered in an attack committed by an illegal immigrant is an astronomical 1 in 10.9 billion per year. By contrast, the chance of being murdered by a tourist on a B visa, the most common tourist visa, is 1 in 3.9 million per year.”

And while there are certainly cases of refugees who commit other kinds of crimes, studies reveal that immigrants are far less likely than the general population to commit a crime, and that in nine of the ten US cities that received the largest influx of refugees in recent years actually experienced declines in crime. Refugees undergo a complex and detailed vetting process that takes up to two years to complete. In short, refugees are not the problem. Fleeing danger does not make you a dangerous person.

Historically, the American public has had mixed feelings about allowing in refugees, the majority disapproving allowing in Hungarians (1958), Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians (1979) or Cubans (1980). Yet time has demonstrated that refugees repeatedly become invaluable threads in the fabric of American society.

It is easy to fear “the other.” One of the best gifts books give us is insight into other people’s lives, other people’s stories. These extraordinary refugee stories remind us of the humanity common to us all.

A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea

Once a typical teenager, Doaa’s life in Syria was upended when her father’s barbershop was destroyed, and rumors of abductions of girls and women began to swirl. She and her family fled Syria for Egypt, a country that suffered its own upheavals just months after their arrival. Doaa fell in love with another refugee who convinced her to try the dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean. That is when her struggle for survival really began. Melissa Fleming, chief of communications for the UN Refugee Agency, deftly shares Doaa’s story of survival against all odds.

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They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky (10-Year Anniversary REISSUE)

Between 1987 and 1989, tens of thousands of young boys—and a smattering of girls—ran for their lives to escape the raids and massacres of the civil war in Sudan. While the men in the fields and the women and girls in the villages were systematically killed by militias and marauders, many boys were out tending the cows and they managed to run away and escape. The so-called “lost boys” walked thousands of miles through the wilderness in the following years, eventually making their way into refugee camps and, if they were lucky like Deng, Deng and Ajak, into resettlement programs. The 2014 movie The Good Lie is based on this book.

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The Lonely War

Nazila’s personal story of family life and growing up, getting an education and establishing a career spans the years 1979 to 2009, and is set against the backdrop of the revolution in Iran and its aftermath. Her father was fired from his government job, and Nazila grew up navigating the political changes and hardship, and determined to retain control of her mind and body. After studying English at university in Iran, she became a translator for journalists and eventually a journalist in her own right. Nazila left Iran for Canada in 1999 to study political science at the University of Toronto, but returned to Iran two years later, where she became a stringer for the New York Times. In 2009 the dreaded call came. “They have given your photo to snipers,” she was warned, and with that, Nazila and her family were forced to flee Iran.

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A Long Way Gone

There are hundreds of thousands of child soldiers in the world today, roughly half of them conscripted in Africa. Ishmael was just thirteen when the army in Sierra Leone recruited him to fight against the rebels who were tearing his country apart, the rebels who had killed Ishmael’s own family the year before. Hooked by drugs and hatred, Ishmael was sixteen before he was removed from the fighting with the assistance of UNICEF, and he was eventually resettled in the United States. He finished his last two years of high school in New York and went on to Oberlin College. Ishmael is now an award-winning author and activist.

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First They Killed My Father

Daughter of a high-ranking government official, Loung was five years old when Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge stormed their home in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Loung’s family fled to the countryside and eventually scattered, in the attempt to survive. Loung was trained as a child solider in a work camp for orphans. During five long years, she struggles to survive, before finally making it to a refugee camp in Thailand, and eventually to the United States, where she became an author and an activist against land mines.

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Reader, writer, globetrotter. Seattle native who has lived in six countries (current home: New York). Food obsessed. Bylines in NPR, Wall Street Journal, Vice MUNCHIES, Budget Travel and more.


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