Student Life

Refugees: From a Global to a Campus Perspective

(Photo Courtesy by Zyon Velázquez, SAU Photographer)

According to The UN Refugee Agency, there were “110 million forcibly displaced people worldwide at mid-2023 as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations or events seriously disturbing public order.”

St. Ambrose University is the first campus in Iowa to host refugees, as a result of their partnership with Every Campus a Refugee (ECAR). This project is based on the idea that college campuses have everything necessary to host refugees, such as housing, food, care, and support.  

Diya Abdo, founder of ECAR, spoke at SAU in February. She says, “Refugees are forced to seek safety elsewhere because home is no longer safe. For refugees, exile is the solution to the problem of death, and the problem of death is universal, is indiscriminate.”

She also stresses the fact that “the definition of refugee and the way we understand who refugees are today, happened because of World War II, so if you think about refugees, it is very important to remember that anybody at any time can become a refugee.”

Abdo talks about refugees’ experiences and the need to create welcoming communities, on Feb. 22nd at St. Ambrose University. (Photo Courtesy by Zyon Velázquez, SAU Photographer)

There are many myths about refugees. One of them is the world’s tendency to consider refugees terrorists, while they are actually scaping from terrorism. The same way, she says they did not leave their home country because they wanted to, instead they were forced to do so.

She states another fallacy towards refugees is the belief that they take away the country’s resources. A report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) shows that “From 2005 to 2019, refugees and asylees paid a total of $123.8 billion more in taxes than they cost in government services.” It explains that refugees actually contribute to the development of the country that they relocate to, other than stealing the resources of that nation, as a lot of people claim.

2023 St. Ambrose alumni Kler Soe, a refugee from Thailand who works relocating families, talks about the challenges involved in this process. She emphasizes one of the main struggles refugees face is the language barrier, which stops them from communicating with other people from the country they have just moved to. She also states, “Another hardship is transportation because it prevents the refugees from doing simple tasks like going to the grocery store or attending ESL classes”.

Samantha Sancen, an SAU alumni who also works with refugees, says: “Understanding that people that come here don’t know a lot of the culture and customs, that seems really easy to Americans is the first step to establish a relationship with them. I remember something as simple as someone not understanding why we had to put a coin in the Aldi cart to get a cart, or not knowing that medicine goes in the medicine cabinet, stuff that seems really simple to us, but a lot of people have never experienced.”

Soe agrees and says that listening is vital. “That’s how you learn about someone, they have a lot to learn from us, but we have a lot to learn from them as well and their story and journey.”

Abdo declares she models her project, ECAR, on Pope Francis’s call for radical hospitality, but that over the years she has come to see it as well as a call to radical accountability.

“We are all part of systems and interventions that have forced migration displacing people indigenous to this land and around the world, people who were once indigenous elsewhere. So as Americans, we have to do this work of radical hospitality and radical accountability, not simply because we can but because we must.

“When human beings find themselves compelled to move, who are we to tell them to stop? We should be so fortunate to be the community that receives them and do so with radical hospitality and radical accountability in mind. I believe that we all have the resources, so we need to say, ‘Please don’t stop. Come here, you are welcome.’”

Abdo added that there is still a long path to go to stop dehumanizing refugees and their fight. Fake news, myths, and lack of resources shouldn’t be in the way to guarantee their well-being, thankfully projects like ECAR are becoming more popular and this builds hopes for a brighter future for everybody.

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