World Relief employees speak on refugee experience

Published: Mar. 4, 2022 at 11:11 PM CST
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MOLINE, Illinois (KWQC) - Present and former employees of World Relief Quad Cities, who were once refugees themselves, know the challenges ahead for more than 1,000,000 people fleeing Ukraine.

The United Nations refugee agency says that 1,000,000 people left Ukraine in the last seven days. For reference, the agency says it took three months for the same number of refugees to leave Syria in 2013, at the height of evacuations there.

“I sympathize, first of all, and I understand it,” said Mbanzamihigo “Abe” Ibrahim, an ambassador for World Relief who left Burundi with his family when he was 10. “We’re living in 2022 and just hearing something like that happening is, it baffles me.”

Abe’s family left Burundi in 2007, fleeing armed conflict between dueling factions. But even with war behind them, there are other barriers for refugees to overcome.

“Imagine coming to a country where you don’t know the culture. You don’t know, you know, the livelihood of the society,” said Ibrahim. “Even more now we have to deal with the language barrier. But with all that you still have to, you know, create a life. You have to survive.”

The situation in Ukraine is made even more challenging, with major outlets like CNN hearing reports of instances of racism towards Africans at border crossings.

“Seeing, you know, people from where I’m from, like African people who are actually in Ukraine being segregated out of other people,” said Ibrahim. “It just goes to show you, even in those times that people are still capable of bad things.”

Even as families are trying to build a new home in an unfamiliar country, they’re simultaneously losing decades of history.

“There’s not much words to describe it, how much the people could have been feeling. Fleeing from the country that you have been living there for ages, for generation to generation,” said No Niang, a caseworker with World Relief Quad Cities. “Feeling that is really painful.”

Niang’s family left Burma, where an ongoing civil war divides the country, six years ago. She says Americans have a unique opportunity to have their voices heard when it comes to supporting refugees.

“Reach out to people who have a connection with the government,” said Niang. “We can do that because in America you have the right to do that, which is the difference between other countries.”

For Ibrahim, supporting refugees means welcoming and listening.

“The first step just begins by having a conversation, getting to know someone and just being able to say: ‘Hi, I recognize you’re different, but I want to know who you are’”, said Ibrahim. “’I want to know how can I help you feel more comfortable’.”

Both Niang and Ibrahim are praying for the end of the war.

“Let’s continue to pray and hope for the best,” said Ibrahim. “Let’s just hope this comes to an end because it’s terrible, it’s terrifying.”

If you want to find out more about volunteering and working with refugees, you can find resources on World Relief’s website.

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