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Asylum Fact 3

Last updated: October 6, 2023

3) Flight From Persecution is Dangerous and Traumatic

A large number of CVT clients flee their homes with only the meager possessions they can carry. Few are able to plan their sudden and often perilous journey, instead needing to run without much notice. Some flee on foot; some obtain transportation. Others use visas they already held for visits to other countries. Some end up in refugee camps, for years, awaiting resettlement to a third country, while others seek asylum in the country where they are physically present.

Almost all CVT clients – refugees and asylum seekers alike – tell us they had to travel through more than one country to get to a location that was truly secure. Some clients fled from their houses but attempted to remain in their country of birth, hoping to someday return to their homes. But returning home can be dangerous and result in further violence and devastation. For refugees in these situations, often the safest choice is to move to a host country and await a chance for resettlement. Syrian refugees Yasser and Khadija*, for example, waited for years in Jordan, fearful that their son would be sent to a camp or deported.

While an individual flees to a new country, many clients’ families, like Yonas’s family, are traced by perpetrators who may have their cellphone numbers, social media accounts or mutual contacts. David told CVT he escaped his home in Africa but was tracked by perpetrators to Belgium, so he had to continue his escape to the U.S.

Some asylum seekers and refugees pay another person to take them across borders. They might do so because they know of no other way to reach safety given their circumstances, or because smugglers who control large parts of a border charge a fee to cross and threaten them with death or serious harm if they attempt to cross without paying. Regardless of the reason, these refugees and asylum seekers face additional dangers: they become part of an unregulated economy; nobody can account for their location, or safety, during this treacherous trip; and they become susceptible to human trafficking.

According to Dr. Adaobi Iheduru, clinic manager and psychologist at CVT Georgia, some of CVT’s Central American clients report that they paid coyotes (human smugglers) and were then abandoned, or worse. Some report being held hostage while coyotes demanded ransom from their families. And some were beaten and raped by those they paid to help them reach the border.

Women who flee face particular dangers of sexual violence and abuse among innumerable other risks. Understanding the high risks of rape, women often take birth control before embarking on what they see as their journey to freedom. One teenage client, a refugee named Dina, who was captured by soldiers and raped on a regular basis, escaped her perpetrators with a friend. However, her friend died during their flight because she was in the late stages of pregnancy and suffered a deadly complication in the woods in the middle of the night with only Dina to care for her.

*Some names or details have been changed for confidentiality.

For up-to-date information about the process of seeking asylum, go to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).