Hassan left his home in Somalia in 2008. He left a country that has been torn apart by civil war and famine for over 20 years. In that time hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees have fled violence, persecution, and starvation. They crossed deserts and borders to find themselves living, getting married, having children, and going to school in refugee camps throughout the Horn of Africa. While life doesn’t stop in a refugee camp, many refugees hold on to the hope that they are waiting for something better.
Having left Somalia only 6 years ago, Hassan now finds himself in a new country, the United States. He is part of the thousands of refugees that arrive in the United States each year as part of the federally funded United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP).
“The first night when I got off the airplane I thought about the new life that I was entering in the United States, fortunately, I received an organization, CWS, that helped me, brotherly and sisterly,” said Hassan, reflecting on his first steps in the United States.
Hassan was met at the airport near Durham, North Carolina by staff of the local Church World Service Immigration and Refugee Program. CWS works in partnership with the US Department of State to provide assistance to refugees entering the United States.
“When I came, I thought I would be someone who was new in the country, but when I came, I felt the same as the people, I could get a job the same as other people here,” said Hassan. CWS “made it easy to adapt to the conditions of Durham.”
CWS works with local churches and community members to help support refugees in their first steps in the United States. The goal is to assist refugees in becoming self-sufficient members of local communities, integrated into the social landscape of the United States. “When I came here [to the United States] it was different…they might not ask me how long I’ve been here, because they thought I was one of the residents of Durham,” noted Hassan.
Hassan’s hopes of building a community in the United States are echoed by the almost 70,000 refugees who came to the US this past fiscal year. They are a diverse group, coming from places of continued oppression such as Iran, Myanmar, Iraq, Bhutan, Congo, and Somalia. Integration into US communities can be difficult, but refugees are resilient. They will need to learn English, find work, support their families, and adapt to an environment that is often completely foreign.
With the help of churches and local communities, a refugee’s first steps in the United States are often made much easier. Integration into local communities takes time, but having a friendly face to help new arrivals learn how to use public transport, shop in local stores, and learn English can be of great value to a refugee.
“I have one great idea, and that is to have a community in Durham,” said Hassan.
CWS is continually looking for local partners, churches, and individuals to help welcome refugees. If you feel led to help the most vulnerable in your neighborhood, please take time to write to us this World Refugee Day at firstname.lastname@example.org. Having the help of supportive individuals has made the difference in the lives of countless refugees, including Hassan.
William Haney is the Associate Director for External Relations in CWS's Immigration and Refugee Program.