World Refugee Day 2021

Published by Maria Hernandez on

Refugees around the world

About 79.5 million people around the world face the difficult decision of leaving their countries in order to find a better life. It is an unfortunate and common reality that transcends nations, spanning different continents and even moments in history. But what does it mean for someone to be a refugee? What are the political protections they are entitled to?

Defining migrants, immigrants, emigrants, and refugees.

These terms get thrown around despite having very dissimilar definitions and political implications. They overlap in many situations, but it is necessary to understand the context and why these terms are used.

Migration is defined generally as the movement of people from one place to another. A migrant is a person who moves from one country to another. The process of immigration is the act of moving into a new country; whereas emigration is the process of leaving a country.

A refugee is a person who is fleeing their home country due to experiencing dangerous situations that threaten their lives. Threats can be political or religious persecution, violence like war, or natural disasters. Refugees are protected under the 1951 Refugee Convention, which describes what legal protections and rights they should receive. This Convention was drafted to protect migrants from Europe after World War II, and now includes people from all countries.

What does it mean to venture through borders in search of a better opportunity? 

Immigration is the act of relocating or moving away from your country of origin. The borders between countries can be dangerous, with the constant risk of being caught by law enforcement and being victims of life-threatening situations, such as muggings, kidnapping, or sexual assault. Other repercussions that immigration entails are environmental illnesses, torture from criminal associations or local border patrol, and ultimately death. 

The image above details the three northern Central American countries that have the greatest percentage of detected migration, according to the U.S. Border Control. Second to people of Mexican origin, the highest percentage of people held within detention camps are from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

What occurs once undocumented individuals are caught by Border Control? 

Given these factors, what isn’t generally explained is once these undocumented individuals have reached the U.S., Border Control authorities, unfortunately, detain these people seeking a better future and puts them into inhabitable detention camps where many perish. Often, these centers lack proper resources for detainees, such as blankets, food and hygiene supplies. In addition, they are known for being in freezing temperatures and never turning off their facility lights, which makes the detention centers accommodating for people detained for undetermined amounts of time.

Due to policies enacted in recent administration, children are often separated from their families. There are also many cases of children never being reunited with their parents, or presenting symptoms of trauma once they are. For those who cannot find their parents, they often end up suffering alone the same fate of anguish, deprivation of food and water, and hypothermia due to lack of heat in these cold detention cells. 

What are the main reasons why people embark on these voyages? 

→ Domestic Violence 

→ Hunger 

→ Security 

→ Criminal Violence

→ Economic Opportunity 

→ Sexual Violence 

Refugees in the United States

Since its beginnings, the United States was the destination for immigrants from all over the world. It is not an easy process to enter the United States due to the fact that it is illegal to enter the country without the necessary approval. Despite this, many people find themselves needing to leave their country by any means necessary as a way to survive. And under International Law, fleeing from your country and entering the United States as a refugee is a completely legal method of entry. Los Angeles is the city with the highest number of relocated foreigners, with about 14% of the immigrant population of the United States living there.

There are many organizations involved in the immigration process, as well as the assistance in acquiring legal status and protection in the United States. Some of these organizations are the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the Department of State, the United States Intelligence Community, and the Department of Health and Human Services. In many cases, refugees qualify for asylum.

Asylum seekers: what is political asylum and who qualifies for it?

Families and individuals can apply for asylum before entering the United States. Under asylum, people receive protection and permission to reside in the United States. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 states: “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” Persecution can look like threats of violence due to religious or political beliefs, race, gender, nationality, and participation in any social group. Asylum seekers may include any spouses or children in their application; they may also apply for work one year after filing asylum applications. 

The selection process may take up to 36 months after arriving at the United States. After this process, people with asylum are relocated to a city where they may have family or a community who can facilitate their transition. If granted asylum, refugees are immediately encouraged to find work.

Despite this, 60% of asylum cases in the United States fail or are rejected.

Reasons why refugees may be denied asylum: 

  • Crimes committed in the US or abroad 
  • Many refugees don’t have the resources to assist in their court hearings, like funds to pay for proper legal representation, transportation, and even translators.
  • Any change that causes one to no longer be eligible for asylum. The United States is one of the 28 resettlement countries in the world. The Trump administration pushed refugee immigration to a record low. Families have been separated at the border where children are kept away from their parents. Its refugee limit was 18,000 and since October it has been changed to 15,000, thus reaching an all-time low. For comparison, the Obama administration had the cap at 110,000. Resettlement offices have had to close due to a lack of funds during this time. This has put millions of families at risk and makes the current places refugees can go that much more crucial.
  • Not having enough evidence to show that they need asylum. Refugees must have convincing evidence that they are being persecuted or in danger within their country of origin, enough for a judge to determine that they are eligible.

Learn More: 

Aguilas del Desierto:

A group of individuals dedicated to rescuing undocumented crossers in distress where certain times the search is for the remains of loved ones with the potential of bringing closure to their families.   

Recommended Documentaries and Videos: 

La Asfixia

The asfixia is a voyage within the blurry prints of memory, where Ana Bustamante is in search of detaching herself from solemnity, and aware that memory reinvents and forgets, to create her own images about her father and what happened to an entire generation that was massacred. https://vimeo.com/64144733  

Los Eternos Indocumentados produced by Jennifer A. Cárcamo 

A documentary that dictates not only the reasoning behind the migration that Central American embark on but the cruel reality that takes place when they manage to cross the Mexican and United States borders. 

Águilas produced by Maite Zubiaurre y Kristy Guevara-Flanagan

Details the heartbreaking short documentary about a group of volunteers who receive phone calls from family members who have loved ones that are missing somewhere in the Arizona desert trying to find a better life for themselves and/or their families back home.

Recommended books

Tell Me How it Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions by Valeria Luiselli

Luiselli describes in a moving and eye-opening essay the polemic about the US-Mexico border. She delves into what happens to the tens of thousands of unaccompanied Mexican and Central American children arriving in the US without papers.

Talons of the Eagle: Latin American, The United States and the World by Peter H. Smith

An eminent scholar’s perspective on the interaction between global trends and inter-American affairs.

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