The American Dream — Now
I had the privilege recently of spending a few precious days with my brother Ken, a Chief Warrant Officer (CWO4) in the U.S. Navy. This well-educated man, who has literally lived all over the world, asked me a question that made me realize we have some communicating to do. He asked why Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska resettles refugees—or for that matter, why anyone does? With all of the problems in our country, he asked, why do organizations make refugee resettlement a priority?
As we talked, it became very clear that many people nod when they hear the term “refugee resettlement,” but few really grasp its importance.
Refugees are people who have been forced from their homes, usually suddenly and violently, and most often as a result of war, famine, or other civil conflict. But the bottom line is that refugees do not carry that title by choice. Many were professionals or craftsmen in their own country; but, as they escape their community, they leave with nothing. Many face horrors most of us cannot imagine as they seek safety.
After they finally make their way to the relative security of a refugee tent camp, they wait for the bloodshed to abate. Often it doesn’t. They wait for the United Nations to arrive and give them new options, like resettlement. If they are among those lucky enough to apply for refugee status, they wait again. It’s not unusual for the process to take a decade or more. And as they wait, they live. They take spouses; they have children.
According to the United Nations High Council on Refugees 2011 Statistic, of the 10.5 million refugees in the world, a mere 12 percent (128,000) are approved by the United Nations for resettlement each year. Of the few countries who accept refugees, Canada, Australia, and the United States resettle 90 percent of those eligible. In 2012, President Obama opened the door for just 76,000 refugees, but actual resettlements always fall far short of that maximum. Lutheran Family Services is the largest resettlement organization in the state, bringing in approximately 500 individuals and families each year with the help of two national organizations (Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services and Church World Service).
The criteria for resettlement can be daunting. If a refugee already has family here, their chances are better. And although they don’t get to choose, people in the camps dream about where they would like to go. They hope to go where they may have friends, or where there are others who share their nationality and heritage. This is why so many Sudanese live in Omaha, creating the largest Sudanese community outside of Sudan.
Refugees come based on where the turmoil exists in the world. If you see long-term civil unrest on the news, the chances are good that people will be driven from their homes, and refugees will result. The short answer to Ken’s question is “because it’s the compassionate and right thing to do.” We stop and help stranded motorists. Refugees are simply stranded elsewhere. The refugees who come to Nebraska are seeking not just a better life for themselves and their children, but simply a life that they can live in peace and safety.
Next month: What refugees face when they arrive in Omaha, the power of what they bring with them, and why friendships and kindness are so important.
Because of the federal funding timetable, the summer is by far the busiest time of the year for refugee resettlement. LFS can use the help of families, churches, and other groups who want to sponsor or provide supplies for arriving refugee families. If you would like to help, please email info@LFSneb.org.