Story by Christine Eyre, Colorado and Wyoming Region, Volunteer
“We have family who are in refugee camps, family in prison or family members we can’t find. We need help from the Red Cross to help us connect with them…we want to live together as families again and be happy.” --Burmese asylee in Denver
The process of integrating into a new country as an asylum seeker or refugee is one of the most traumatic experiences a person can face, and the degree to which an individual is able to become a full participant in society depends on several key factors including learning a new language, access to employment and cultural orientation. Perhaps more important is family stability, which may be compromised if family or friends have been separated internationally by conflict, disaster, migration or other humanitarian emergency. The Restoring Family Links program of the Red Cross is a critical link in helping refugees and asylum seekers in this essential part of the integration process.
The volunteer-run Restoring Family Links community outreach program of the Colorado Red Cross works to find opportunities to identify and serve refugees and asylum seekers living in Colorado.
Last week, American Red Cross volunteers Robbe Sokolove and Christina Eyre traveled to the Asian Pacific Development Center in Denver to reach out to Burmese and Nepalese refugees and asylum seekers living in the Denver-metro area. Through two interpreters, Robbe and Christina explained how the program works, and the kinds of help the Red Cross can offer to refugees and asylum seekers looking for family in Bhutan or Nepal.
After listening to the presentation and asking questions, at least two thirds of our fifteen participants had potential cases for the Restoring Family Links program. Their heartbreaking stories ranged from a woman who was separated from her husband over 20 years ago and has no knowledge of what has happened to him, to our Bhutanese interpreter who has a family member who has been imprisoned as a political dissident.
As a part of the community outreach team for Restoring Family Links, I am most grateful to our new partners at the Asian Pacific Development Center for inviting us to present this program to their clients—if our initial meeting is any indication, we have identified a demonstrable need in our community and our work with these refugees and asylum seeker may be an important part of their resettlement and integration into the community.