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The difference between refugees and immigrants is significant. Refugees migrate for reasons of safety or civil rights from their own country. They are usually in danger of losing their life. Humanities basic rights and simple safety are at risk. Immigrants migrate because they choose to look for a better life. Many times immigrants are seeking economic opportunities not available in their country of origin. These migrants could be seen as economic refugees because they are often unable to feed their families and must immigrate for work opportunities. This is usually due to disruptions in local economies, not dissimilar to situations feared in refugee populations.
Refugees leave because of war, danger or the threat of imprisonment to themselves or their loved ones. They have no choice if they want to continue to live at all. “The term refuge is associated with some of the most profoundly disturbing human experiences, that of persecution, genocide, dislocation, disruption, forced migration, alienation, and loss.”(Koltyk, p21, Pioneers) Many Hmong have migrated to the US because they were actively involved in helping US Armed Forces during the Vietnam War. The people who recruited them for their expertise and assistance assured the Hmong that if the war was lost the US would take care of them and their families. They are the veterans of our own war fought on their land. We owe it to them to take care of them and their families. They are our allies. They helped us when we needed them; we owe them the same in return.
None should ever be left behind to suffer for involvement in our war. They assisted us out of choice; they could have chosen the other side and become our enemy. The Hmong fought side by side with our own troops. They provided valuable information and assistance that probably saved American lives. They deserve respect and care in this country. It was impossible for them to remain in their country of origin and we owe them refuge and sanctuary. The Hmong were originally from China. They began moving to Indochina around 1610. In the 1960’s The Hmong were recruited as Special Forces to control the border regions between Laos and Vietnam. The CIA provided ammunitions and food to the Hmong for their support in the Vietnam War. When the US pulled out of Vietnam the Hmong were unable to defend their territory without our support. The fled to refugee camps in Thailand. Since then we have been morally obligated to help and support them as refugees in our homeland.
The term refuge means to seek refuge or sanctuary and protection. It is defined in the American Heritage dictionary as, “One who flees in search of refuge, as from war or political oppression.” This is why the Hmong are here in the USA. They were not safe and we provided sanctuary. Many people are refugees seeking sanctuary from their own governments. These refugees have usually suffered tremendous hardships in their lifetimes. The refuge camps are difficult and dangerous places to live. A refugee can spend many years in a camp before they are repatriated or resettled elsewhere in the world.
They leave behind family, friends and most of their personal belongings when fleeing for their lives in foreign lands. Many will never return to their homes or country of origin. They must start over and build brand new lives with little or no assistance. Most do not speak the language of their resettlement country and this creates a barrier to acculturation. Many refugees are women and children without the protection of a man this can create an environment of extreme vulnerability in the refugee camps. Many refugees begin their journeys in camps in underdeveloped or third world nations. They bring little education, job skills or money when they flee their homes.
In 1950, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was created to assist and protect refugees. Since biblical times people have fled persecution, leaving their homelands and seeking asylum in other places. The pilgrims who came to America were refugees fleeing religious persecution in England. There have always been immigrants and refugees, and it will always be a phenomenon created by natural and un-natural forces. Many organizations make it their business to help refugees. There are international, national, state and local government agencies that assist refugees. There are also private and non-governmental organizations that help refugee populations.
These people arrive in a strange land far from home, hungry and tired not knowing if they will find safety or sanctuary from well-founded fears. This is only the beginning of their journey. They are faced with three different outcomes to their plight. The first option is repatriation to their country of origin. This can only be accomplished if the situation that forced them out to begin with can be resolved. The second option is to remain in the country of first asylum, usually a neighboring country of their own. The last solution is third country resettlement. This final solution is a last resort. It is considered the most costly and helps the least number of refugees.
Unfortunately after all that a refugee must endure, sometimes after years of violation of their basic human rights. They arrive in their resettlement country looking for a place to call home and instead find they are outcasts once again. Some like the Hmong have faced racism, discrimination and prejudice when all they seek is a safe place to rest and find peace. They should be welcomed and assisted into this new life, they have suffered enough. It is time to let them be who they are and start new lives without any additional hardships.
Having overcome my own set of adversities in this country, I can only imagine what being a refuge must be like. They have been forced to leave their homes with little or nothing. They run for their lives leaving behind war, civil strife, famine and environmental disaster. The Statue of Liberty says,
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teaming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
Is this not the basis of America, Liberty and justice for all or only the select few who possess the correct characteristics that is deemed appropriate, I wonder? I believe that I will lift my lamp. This will be my mission. This is what I believe in, will the real Americans please stand up & Lift your lamp!
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