Bringing to light what refugees go through
By Dong Zual - Staff Reporter
People come to America for a variety of reasons and their status is not all the same, a refugee and immigrant assistance expert told a Highline crowd this week.
Sarah Peterson, chief of Office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance for the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, spoke Monday in conjunction with Highline Welcomes the World Week.
During the event, Peterson provided an overview of the refugee resettlement process, particularly in Washington state. She pointed out four main things she wanted to talk about:
• How do people become refugee, history and administration of refugee resettlement in the United States?
• Who's coming to Washing- ton?
• Who's coming to the United States?
• What is their experience as a refugee
A refugee is somebody who has to flee their home country because of a well-founded fear of persecution. And it's not just war, it can be persecution based on who they are as a person. It can be based on the race, their religion, their political opinions, their ethnicity, or their national origins.
The first question Peterson asked was: "What would make someone leave the place they were born?" Audience members raised their hands and replied: "violence," "war," "opportunity," "tyrants," "lack of food," and "jobs."
Peterson said asylum seekers are very much in the news recently and are people who fled their home country, go to someone's border, and ask permission to stay.
"In 2015, there was the crisis caused by all of the asylum seekers from Syria going on boats towards Europe. Today, we hear about asylum seekers that are on our southern border," Peterson said.
The difference between migrant and refugee/asylee is the migrant doesn't suffer the prosecution. They seek better jobs, better education, and better life.
"In the world today, there are 68.5 million people who are forcibly displaced. These are people who are persecuted, so they need that United Nations definition of feeling afraid to stay in their homes. Out of those, 20.45 million are actual refugees. They have had to flee their home countries. And 3.1 million people are asylum seekers," Peterson said.
The second question Peterson asked was: "Where do refugees live?"
The audience responded, "refugee camps," but she said that "75 percent of refugees today live outside an actual formal home. They live in urban areas. They live in make-shift tents. And they live in as sometime what consider to be 'unauthorized immigrants'."
Less than 1 percent of all refugees 25.4 million people ever get the opportunity to resettle, she said.
"There are three different types of options the United Nations offers to people when they register with them. First, they always look for opportunities to go back home. Second, they look for opportunities to integrate into the community where they currently living. Third, refugee resettlement in a third country," Peterson said.
On average, only one in every 500 people ever make it to the United States, she said.
Two-thirds of the 25.4 million refugees come from just five different countries. They are from Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia.
The United Nations only looks at the most vulnerable refugees.
"Refugee resettlement isn't for everyone. It's someone who really needs it: The most vulnerable, they might have medical condition, women and girls at risk, children or survivor of violence and torture," Peterson said.
The most important thing to know is that a person who has committed a serious crime is never eligible for refugee resettlement.
The United Nations believes that refugee resettlement saves people lives, she said.