In this blog, part of the "Welcoming Communities" series, Jessica Thea writes about the organization Northern Virginia Friends of Refugees, which is comprised of 640 members representing faith communities, NGOs, elected government officials, refugee communities, businesses, and schools in the D.C. area. The community-based group is dedicated to mobilizing communities in support of refugees who have resettled in the greater Washington, D.C. region.
While teaching at Pima College, I had the honor of working with Amal, a young Dinka tribesman from Sudan. As an assignment, I asked my students to document their unique cultural geography. However difficult it was for Amal to discuss what he and his people experience, he put it in words. Amal has sadly passed away since the assignment. However, I would like to share his story.
Last week’s events in Paris prompted, predictably, an immediate backlash regarding the resettlement of Syrian refugees, both in the United States and Europe. The should-we-or-shouldn’t-we question that has been a steady topic of debate among politicians, policymakers, and advocates for the past several years has taken a firm turn toward we shouldn’t after a Syrian passport was found near one of the attackers’ bodies. Calls to restrict and even stop resettlement of Syrians to the U.S. have come from public figures as diverse as a presidential candidate, leadership of the House of Representatives, and state governors. But the body of evidence regarding the risks of terrorism from a potential refugee resettlement program is not borne out.
On June 4, four refugees arrived in Phnom Penh’s VIP airport terminal, processed in an area usually reserved for royalty, government officials, or the odd pop star. As they were ushered into a curtained van, dozens of media organizations encircled the three Iranians and one ethnic Rohingya, eager to document the first refugees from the Australian-run Nauru detention center to be permanently resettled in Cambodia. Their arrival in Phnom Penh marks yet another chapter in Australia’s shameful asylum-seeker narrative—a narrative that systematically denies refugees the right to protection and asylum on the Australian mainland.