FACE TOWARDS HOPE
REFUGEES INTERNATIONAL – WORLD REFUGEE DAY
…where bombs force you from your home, where drought and failed crops drive you to flee your family farm, or where the stability and security of your hometown or village are destroyed by economic catastrophe. But amid these big stories of wars, disasters, and financial collapse, there are small and vital stories, ones of hope triumphing over fear and of bridges being built rather than walls. These stories can sometimes get lost in the news and the noise, and real people can be reduced to rounded numbers. That’s why it’s so important on World Refugee Day to share the stories of people like us who just need an open door.
Refugees International is dedicated to telling these stories around the world, through effective advocacy to change minds, shape laws, and save lives that might otherwise be forgotten.
Faceless facts don’t inspire action.
Here’s how you can help.
We’re asking you to take a simple but powerful stand on social media. By Thursday, June 20th, trade faces (or, in this case, profile pictures) with one of the six people below. Each of them has a unique story of hope amid hardship. Their stories will help you inspire your friends, family, and fans to follow your lead.
When you find someone that speaks to you, click the link below their story to download the resources in their social activation kit.
Inside, you’ll find:
We invite you to use your activation kit in advance of World Refugee Day, and hope you’ll join us in sharing these stories by June 20th. Support the movement by following the #FaceTowardsHope on social media.
STORIES OF HOPE
Abdi Iftin does not remember one day of his 29 years that he felt safe. Yet, he had a dream of living in a world free of wars and brutality. And it was that dream that helped him escape the real-life chaos of his childhood on the streets of Mogadishu. When he arrived in Kenya in 2011, he met many young refugees with the same dream of freedom.
In 2013, he was randomly selected to apply for a U.S. green card. “It was like winning the lottery,” he said, but the paperwork required was daunting, and the odds of actually receiving a green card were slim.
Then, in September of that year, al Shabaab attacked the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, killing 67 people and wounding more. The crackdown on Somalis in the capital intensified, police raids emptied Abdi’s neighborhood of refugees, trucking them to a makeshift camp in a converted soccer stadium. He barely escaped being rounded up, and spent days holed up in his now almost-empty apartment building.
“For those of us who went through [war, oppression, and violence], every day of freedom is both a gift and a reminder of the dangers facing those who have fled their homes.”
He battled Kenyan government bureaucracy and hostility to get his paperwork in order to present at his visa interview with the U.S. embassy. Al Shabaab continued to stage attacks in Kenya, prompting fresh waves of police roundups and harassment of Somalis. “I miraculously escaped each one,” he said. Finally, in the fall of 2014, he received his visa to the United States.
Turning his story into a memoir—“Call Me American,” published on World Refugee Day in 2018—he hopes to help the public realize there are more people than ever escaping war, oppression, and violence.
In 2013, at age 23, Mariela was pursuing a B.A. in Business Administration at the University of Aleppo and was the youngest violin teacher at the Arabic Institute of Music, where she would risk her life just to get to the classroom every day. Then after years of seeking opportunities in the United States, Monmouth College granted her a full-tuition scholarship that allowed her to flee Syria and complete her second bachelor’s degree in Music Performance that year.
To escape, Mariela took what would normally be a 4–5 hour bus route out of Syria, but which ultimately took 17 hours due to dangerous roads, frequent checkpoints, and falling bombs. Once in the United States, she heard that three buses on the same route were bombed and her family physician was killed. She realized that while the conflict in Syria continued, she would not be able to return home.
“I think the best thing about refugees is that they are able to use the tragedy to triumph… We are not coming to survive, but to thrive.”
Since seeking refuge in the United States and graduating from Monmouth, Shaker has spoken and performed at over 70 venues around the world, sharing her story and educating people on refugee issues. In 2015, she was honored at the White House and named as Champion of Change for World Refugee Day by President Barack Obama.
For more than 15 years, Carlos González worked as a journalist covering politics in Venezuela. However, as political oppression and instability escalated, he says work began to “jeopardize my security and my family’s,” forcing him and his family of five to flee the country and seek refugee status in nearby Trinidad and Tobago in 2016.
Despite having refugee status for two years now, Carlos and his family live in legal limbo on the islands. Carlos said that day-to-day life is difficult “without having access to job permits or access to public education for my children, and not being able to open a bank account.” His younger daughter is able to go to private school, but his eldest daughter is unable to complete her degree because they don’t have enough money—she only had a year of college left when they fled Venezuela.
“Home means Venezuela – your family, your house, your culture, the security of your country.”
Every day war, disasters, and political conflicts mean that there will continue to be refugees around the world. Therefore, on this World Refugee Day, he calls on countries to create a “cultural change towards refugees,” as he puts it, for the better.
Chekufara, 28, a member of Myanmar’s Rohingya ethnic minority, remembers the day she had to flee her home. “The [month-long] journey was very horrible. I spent three nights in the jungle. …and I’ll never forget it,” said Chekufara.
The Rohingya people have been persecuted for decades by Myanmar’s government and military. In August 2017, one of the largest assaults on their homeland in the western part of the country drove more than 700,000 people across the border into neighboring Bangladesh in a matter of weeks. The ethnic cleansing is ongoing, and there seems little hope of Chekufara and her people returning home any time soon.
“Our goal is to return to Myanmar as soon as possible, so the network is trying to empower women in the camps so they can talk, raise their voices, and fight for justice.”
But even in the midst of tragedy, there are rays of hope like Chekufara. Her Rohingya Women’s Empowerment and Advocacy Network is teaching women how to raise their own voices. They also seek to strengthen livelihood opportunities and raise awareness about the dangers of domestic violence and early marriage.
Like many Rohingya, she longs to return to her homeland, but she doesn’t know when that will be possible.
When Mohamed was a teenager, he met another young man, Mimo Kake, and fell in love. However, in December 2017, a little more than a year into their relationship, they were attacked by a crowd in Conakry, Guinea’s capital. Mimo was killed, and Mohamed was beaten and arrested.
Mohamed endured torture and electric shocks for a month and a half, until he escaped in a period of political upheaval. Ashamed of his homosexuality, which is illegal in Guinea, his family refused him shelter and threatened to return him to prison. So in March 2018, he left home.
Mohamed fled to Sierra Leone and, from there, flew to Guayaquil, Ecuador, crossing into Colombia before traversing the difficult and dangerous Darien Gap to Panama to reach the United States border.
Despite a successful fear of return hearing, Mohamed was detained by Department of Homeland Security officials for nearly a year before a Judge finally heard his request. After an hour of questioning, the judge ruled in his favor, saying, “this is the end of this part of your immigration experience… make the most of this grant of asylum.”
“You are my family,” Mohamed told the attorneys and advocates who helped him with his asylum case.
Mohamed doesn’t have family in the United States. “You are my family,” he told the attorneys and advocates who helped him with his asylum case. He has a contact in Philadelphia and plans to go there. He would like to learn English, go to school, and make up for the months he lost in detention. He is only now able to mourn, recover, and build a new life in the United States.
Peace was born into the middle of a bloody conflict in Rwanda—her Tutsi mother and Hutu father were from two warring groups whose fighting turned into a genocide of nearly a million people in 1994.
She fled home for the first time when she was in 2nd grade. From Rwanda to Uganda to Kenya, Peace and her family struggled with the uncertainty of what the next days would bring. Fighting off hunger, running from danger, and living in fear, the threat of attack or discrimination permeated every aspect of her young life.
With nowhere else to turn, the family went to a camp for refugees where at least they would be provided a tent and food rations.
“Nobody chooses to be a refugee. It takes a lot to decide to leave your own country and look for a better life… besides the name ‘refugee’ we are all just human beings.”
Camp life continued with its own challenges—abuse, hunger, disease, beatings, snakes, and scorpions, but the family filed for resettlement and finally learned that they were going to be able to start a new life in the United States. They arrived in Texas in February 2009.
Now, 10 years since arriving in the United States, Peace has dedicated her life to giving back to people like her. With a masters in social work, she helps refugees avoid the problems she encountered and teaches families how to thrive in the U.S. “Besides the name ‘refugee,’ we are all just human beings,” she said. “People just want peace. I just hope that someday people will understand.”
Help us share these stories with the world, and together we can #FaceTowardsHope