Refugee panel discusses experiences and advocacy

As defined by Mary Truong, the director of the Office of Refugees and Immigrants in Massachusetts, a refugee is someone who is fleeing in fear of persecution because of their nationality, religion, as well as many other possible reasons, and is escaping to a new country for protection. On Feb. 24, 2017, Wheaton College had the honor of welcoming Mary Truong herself, a Vietnamese refugee, 19-year-old Somali refugee Abdi and 30-year-old Iraqi refugee Russia.

The panel was held at Hindle Auditorium from 7-8 p.m., and was very well attended. The Global Leadership Development Group, a student organization created a year and a half ago, that is advised by President Hanno and Professors Gail Sahar and Aubrey Westfall, sponsored the panel. Their mission statement is to bring awareness on campus to the refugee cause.

During the event, Truong shared that her father, because of the Vietnam War, made the decision to flee to the United States. She explained that it was a struggle to get to the nearest shore to escape. At one point her family “heard tanks rolling in from afar,” and to escape, they stayed in the bunker of an abandoned house.

It was then when she saw people standing outside their houses, trying to catch a glimpse of the arriving Communists, to “see if they are as human as we are.” Eventually after more tribulation, she and her family were able to get on a boat that was rescued by an American fleet.

Abdi spoke about how he had to escape Somalia when he was 12 years old because of the Somali Civil War, and because he did not want to join a terrorist group, which Abdi said would kill those who refused to work for them.

Russia talked about leaving Iraq because terrorists were targeting her family because of their religion. The Christian minority, she explained, was forced to pay money, and when their lives were threatened, they fled to Syria, where Russia remained until the civil war began in 2011. When Isis came to Aleppo, the city she was staying in, she was forced to flee to Lebanon, and then to the United States in 2013.

When offering advice on how to become better advocates for refugees, Truong suggested that “[we] recruit [our] friends to help,” and that ”[we ourselves should] help,” even by simply befriending a refugee to help ease their fear. Writing to local elected officials is also a way to get involved.

Russia said that we should stay involved and keep in touch with refugees—even volunteer, if possible. Abdi strongly believed that we should “explain why social media is not true,” because sometimes information about refugees can be misleading and blown out of proportion. In this way, we can lead by example and forge a better path forward on social media.

Confronted with the question of what was the hardest thing about coming to the United States, each refugee offered a different answer: Truong said learning English was difficult, Russia talked about driving, and getting used to the weather was Abdi’s answer. Yet, when asked if they can ever call America home, they all agreed wholeheartedly that the answer is yes.