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Asylum Fact 5

Last updated: March 15, 2024

5) Refugees and Asylum Seekers Face Hardship in a New Country

It is difficult enough for healthy people who have chosen to do so to move to a new country. Torture survivors are often thrust into entirely new cultures and languages, and must cope with these changes while experiencing symptoms of trauma and loss of identity, even many years after the abuse.

As CVT has reported, survivors are haunted by the experience of torture. Many find they are unable to stop thinking about the torture and must reckon with intrusive memories. They have frequent thoughts of suicide, deep depression and anxiety. Sleep rarely provides relief; nightmares are vivid, regular and terrifying. Survivors cross many triggers in their daily lives, such as the sight of armed personnel or something as simple as the sound of laughter, which can repeatedly bring back to life past traumas. Many also live with the chronic pain that results from having been beaten, bound, hung and any number of injuries inflicted by a torturer. All these affect survivors’ abilities to adapt to life in new countries and to begin rebuilding their lives.

In recent years, far fewer refugees and asylum seekers have even had a chance at a new life in the United States, once a beacon of hope for those fleeing persecution. The U.S. has increasingly relied on yet another category, “emergency humanitarian parole,” to help Afghans, Ukrainians and others fleeing conflict and instability, but that program confers only temporary immigration status and has left many thousands of people in the U.S. living in legal limbo, having to apply for re-parole, asylum or other temporary protections to avoid being sent back into danger.

For refugees, humanitarian parolees and asylum seekers residing in the United States, the assistance available to them varies. Refugees at least have access to work and to some basic benefits and assistance that help them adjust to often drastic cultural and language changes. These include modest levels of cash assistance, medical assistance and social services, as well as work authorization upon arrival. Asylum seekers have limited access to some of these and face additional significant challenges associated with the U.S. legal process. Some parolees have access to assistance, while others do not.

Asylum seekers, however, have extremely limited access to support and face additional significant challenges associated with the U.S. legal process. 

When the opportunity to apply for work authorization arises, it is not an easy system to navigate. Because the immigration system is so complex, most clients are unable to submit applications without the help of immigration attorneys. Thus, their ability to work also depends on their ability to secure legal help which is very expensive, and pro bono assistance is in incredibly high demand. As a result of lack of services, CVT client, Thomas*, found himself homeless in Minnesota after escaping from his home country in Africa.

Despite these hardships, CVT clients are amazingly resilient and regularly go on to heal and prosper in their new communities. Indeed, they include home and daycare staff, personal care attendants, delivery drivers, grocery store and other food supply chain employees, and poultry plant workers — many of the roles needed on the front lines of the pandemic to keep everyone healthy and safe.

*Names and some details have been changed for security and confidentiality.

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