Stories from panelists aid in discussing refugee crisis

Devon Recktenwald

Panelists discussed the implications of the refugee crisis at the “Redefining ‘Refugee’: Stories from a Global Crisis” event on Nov. 15.

The panel was made up of Eka Anthony, Anuj Gurung, Brooke Davis, Ka Thi Sa and Neema Tamang.

They discussed the effect of the refugee crisis on America, dispelled myths, informed the audience on ways to support refugees and spoke of their own experiences. 

Anuj Gurung, a Ph.D. candidate in the political science department at Kent State University, said the main thing people need to understand is what a refugee is and how individual stories need to be focused on. Gurung said that lack of knowledge creates fear among people and leads to the spreading of myths.

 “A lot of time stereotypes and myths do come from a place of fear,” Gurung said.

Neema Tamang, a Nepali interpreter who grew up in a refugee camp, insisted people to stop using one person to describe a whole community because one person cannot possibly represent a mass of people.

“Don’t just put one person’s thoughts and feelings,” Tamang said. “Try to look at the whole community.”

Tamang said research will lead to a better understanding of refugees and the places they come from.   

Refugees face a long process when being resettled in countries. They often have to go through interviews and comprehensive health checks before they are allowed to relocate to another country. 

Ka Thi Sa, a former refugee from Thailand, went through a lengthy process on her journey to America. Sa got rejected twice before coming to America and on her third attempt she was accepted. Sa’s mother was pregnant at the time and because of restrictions, her family had to wait until her mother gave birth and the baby was six months old before they could travel. 

Former refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eka Anthony’s process went on for around ten years. Anthony had his first interview at the age of 15 and he went through four more interviews in Uganda before he came to America.  

“It was not just looking to get out,” Anthony said. “It was adjusting to the country.”

In Uganda, Anthony was not provided with education and he faced discrimination. While living at a camp, Anthony lost so much of his family. Anthony’s brother was killed trying to get food for their family. Another day, Anthony said he came home to the sound of gun shots. He hid until there were no longer sounds and when he got home his relatives had been killed. 

“It was something I do not know how to describe,” Anthony said.

Although their backgrounds varied, adjusting to America was something they all had to do.

“When I first got here, my neighbor was super nice even though we did not speak the same language, we don’t have the same culture or anything,” Sa said. “They would bring us food and they would invite us to their home.”

Sa did express that not all people were like her neighbors. Sa said sometimes people would say rude things to her on the streets; she blames people’s lack of exposure to other cultures for their ignorance.

Tamang had cousins living in the United States when he first arrived that helped him adjust. He said he was challenged by the new culture and people the first couple of years in America.

The panel wrapped up the evening discussing ways students and the community can get involved. 

Brooke Davis, a senior communications major, United States Middle Eastern Regional Vice President for International Justice Mission’s (IJM) and National Student Leadership Team (NSLT), urged the audience to get involved by donating money, writing to congressional leaders or news outlets and volunteer with organizations working to end this crisis.

“It’s a matter of us using our education and our voices,” Davis said.

Gurung also advised people to support businesses and restaurants that refugees provide to America. 

Junior human development and family studies major and IJM member, Olivia Hughmanic, came to support Davis and hear the former refugees’ stories.

Hughmanic said she realized how homogenized refugees are and how much of an “individual and personal issue it is.”

Another attendendant, Brittney Prather a senior public relations major came to the event with an eagerness to learn about the prevalent topic.

“I got a better understanding of what a refugee is and things became more clear when I heard the various perspectives of the refugees that come from all walks of life,” Prather said.

Devon Recktenwald is the recruiting and retention reporter. Contact her at [email protected].