On April 28, 2012 MRC Board President- Yubelly Perez- spoke at the Texas State Capital for the One Million Bones Exhibit (www.onemillionbones.org) raising awareness about genocide and humanitarian crises in some of the countries that refugees are from such as Congo, Sudan, Somalia, and Burma.
Below is her entire, beautiful speech:
“We cannot live only for ourselves
A thousand fibers connect us
With our fellow men;
And along those fibers, as sympathetic threads,
Our actions run as causes,
And they come back to us as effects”
Today I am representing Multicultural Refugee Coalition (MRC), a non-profit in Austin whose mission is to “empower refugees towards self-sufficiency through education, community and reconciliation”. At MRC we serve refugees from more than a dozen different countries — places like Congo, Somalia, Ethiopia, Burma, Burundi, Bhutan and Cuba.
Refugees and asylees are people who have had to leave their countries because of civil wars, or political or religious persecution. Some of them have witnessed mass executions and other horrors. Their human rights have been annulled and their only alternative is to run away. Some refugees are resettled to various cities in the United States, and every year Austin welcomes around 1,000 refugees.
As part of our mission, last year MRC hosted Dialog Group Sessions. Ethnic representatives from different countries were invited to participate in these sessions. In a small room we all gathered, refugees and asylees together. Each one of us had the opportunity to share our story — why we had to flee our countries, why we’re here. Our words were connecting us to one another in each one of these sessions.
Some of the stories were hard to listen to. I remember once, sitting in front of me, there was an elderly woman from Congo who just months ago had escaped death. Other people were telling how they saw their relatives and friends being taken, and never heard back from them. Some of them had run off to Burundi or Rwanda and settled in refugee camps. Other refugees from Congo and Somalia were telling their experiences living in refugee camps in Tanzania or Kenya. They described how, in spite of the hard living conditions and sharing a small space with 10,000 to 12,000 other refugees — there is still hope.
People may end up living for many years in a refugee camp — ten years or longer — maybe spending their entire childhood in a place that is supposed to be a temporary emergency measure. They wait until one day they receive approval from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Office of Resettlement in the United States.
Once refugees have been authorized to travel overseas they need to purchase an airplane ticket to come to America. The Office of International Migrations gives every refugee a loan to buy it, but sometimes a family of 4 or 6 needs to pay for each ticket. When they arrive in Austin or another city they are already in debt. The resettlement process is not easy; they need to find a job, learn English, register the children in school, attend appointments with their case managers, learn how to ride the bus. And all of these adjustments have to be made in a few months, for the refugees to be able to provide for themselves and their families.
At MRC we acknowledge the participants’ past. From those different past experiences we learn to build a future in our organization. One of our participants is a refugee from Congo who could not be here today. But he always reminds us we cannot overlook the horrors being committed in Africa. The mass murder, torture, children becoming soldiers, sexual violence against women — it may not be in the news every day, but that does not mean it is not happening. I believe we are all deeply connected. So if we are to remain fully human ourselves, we must keep alive the memory and awareness of these things that are done to others.
On behalf of MRC and all the refugees that participate in our programs, I am inviting you to connect their survival stories with today’s action. I will end with a poem by a refugee from Bhutan. Keshav Ghimery:
Bare-footed, hungry stomach, with no national identity, we are refugee
Hunted by both the Government and the God, we are refugee
Deserting lovely house without being noticing dusk,
dawn or starless night,
vacating our dwelling place with bare foot and without a grain of rice in stomach, we are refugee
Roofing under the deep blue skies and bared earth as loving bed,
Young, old, adult, maiden and all we are refugee
Hopes, aspiration entangled till we are alive and
Difficult to forget awesome panic,
Deserting homeland enridden upon relatives corpse
Without being mercy, we are refugee
No signals of Human Rights, no place to report our claim,
Survival, we beg for Human Right, we are refugee
No regret or bygone days, shattered with tears and blood,
We opt for freedom now, we are refugee.