Far too many Americans have forgotten what it means to seek refuge in a land far from home, with nothing but hope and whatever they were fortunate enough to travel with and carry. Far too many have demonised those who simply want a better life for themselves and their children.
Whilst thankfully I’ve not (yet) had to flee violence nor war nor a government persecuting me or my people, as a migrant I did find myself in the position of needing refuge in a land not my own. And, for nearly a year, my husband and I were what you could consider undocumented — we were neither illegally staying in Finland nor did we hold valid residents permits or travel documents. We could neither travel, nor really feel as if we were safe from deportation. It was the most unsettling and precarious time of my life. And, one I’d not wish on anyone.
After much paperwork, worry and many meetings, things eventually worked out fine for us — and we’ve been granted permanent residence and a place to call home in Finland. At one point during that year, we were asked and offered the possibility of seeking asylum given the circumstances of our specific case. Neither one of us considered ourselves refugees or asylum seekers. Our life was relatively stable and we understood our position of privilege compared to the millions of refugees seeking shelter across the globe.
As an American from the land of plenty, that moment and possibility was a very odd and surreal moment and a rather gut-wrenching realisation for me. It also allowed me to understand that a refugee can be literally anyone and they can be anywhere — there is no one type of individual who seeks refuge. Lives can and do change in the oddest and most tragic of ways and for a variety of reasons.
Refugees embark on journeys that are heartbreaking and unique, varied and often dangerous; and their entry into any country is not without a mountain of paperwork and enduring patience. They need not be demonised nor feared; they should be welcomed and heard and seen.
In the land of plenty, there is room for those who are tired, poor and yearning to breathe free. Most of us who were fortunate enough to born there more than likely have refugees of one sort or another amongst our ancestors.
At the very least, we can extend a hand of friendship and offer kindness. We can offer a seat at our table, the chance to break bread and share a plate with others less fortunate than us, and a warm blanket and safe haven from which to escape the horrors other have faced on their journeys to safety.
When we faced our own immigration woes, the kindness of friends and strangers alike helped us as we navigated incredibly uncertain waters. On some days, those kindnesses were the only things which made us feel human and worthy.