Amal Hassan is CVT Somali community liaison.
The year my family and I arrived in the United States was 2001. The process to be approved to move here took us three years. Our whole family was asked lists of questions and went through multiple screenings. Although it was difficult for the adults to answer intimate and detailed questions about their trauma experience, they answered everything. As newcomers to America, it was difficult initially; it isn’t easy to start a new life in an unfamiliar country and language. But my family and I quickly embraced this new way of life, learned the language, and my father worked long hours to provide for us.
In the recent months, we have seen increased media coverage about refugees and asylum seekers looking for safety from violence, conflict, oppressive governments and terrorist groups around the world. However, we also hear backlash, as some politicians claim that refugees pose a risk and that we should keep them out of the U.S. As an American and Somali American, this makes me feel like I am an outsider because of my religion or ethnicity, when the truth is I am an American who cares for this country’s safety and people.
As part of my work at CVT, I have the opportunity to meet with a number of refugee communities, here in Minnesota and elsewhere in the U.S. I have heard the stories of brave genocide survivors from South Sudan and Rwanda. I have heard about daily life in refugee camps, followed by fleeing to America. I’ve heard about the rigorous process people must go through before they are allowed to come to the U.S.
The people whom I’ve heard share their stories speak so bravely; they talk about hopes, safety and the better lives they have created for themselves and their families here in America based on the values of America. In thinking about their stories and mine, I am reminded of when I arrived in America as a teen refugee seeking those same hopes, values and safety.
Then it made me wonder as an American, what are the common shared goals we have with newly arrived refugees? Refugees are fleeing the terrorists, fleeing brutality, violence, gunfire, missiles and political torture. As an American, I welcome them and help them find support and resources to rebuild their lives in their new country. I work especially to help the torture survivors among them.
And as a refugee, I share common values with my fellow Americans and the individual freedom we all have to pursue a better life, to have our children get an education in America that promotes self-reliance. As a refugee and an American, I get to enjoy equality and the opportunity to build the American dream to better our lives by working hard in pursuit of happiness and success.
As an American, when I listen to the stories of refugees, I see also how similar they are to so many others who arrived to this great country seeking safety, a better life and hope for the children. I believe Americans know all too well what it means to start over again, leaving everything behind, leaving home.
Welcoming refugees and asylum seekers to this country is part of the foundation of America. We need to send a clear message to the rest of world that humanity matters to Americans, and that the biggest weapons against terrorists are freedom, compassion and respect for the dignity of all people.