Help Families Fleeing Crisis Rebuild Their Lives

by International Rescue Committee
Help Families Fleeing Crisis Rebuild Their Lives
Help Families Fleeing Crisis Rebuild Their Lives
Help Families Fleeing Crisis Rebuild Their Lives
Help Families Fleeing Crisis Rebuild Their Lives
Help Families Fleeing Crisis Rebuild Their Lives
Help Families Fleeing Crisis Rebuild Their Lives
Help Families Fleeing Crisis Rebuild Their Lives
Help Families Fleeing Crisis Rebuild Their Lives
Guatemalan family seeks refuge after violence
Guatemalan family seeks refuge after violence

Political turmoil and rampant violence in Central America have fueled a humanitarian crisis. People traveling to the southern U.S. border to seek refuge have brought critical attention to the horrors that are forcing individuals and families to flee. U.S. and international law give people fleeing violence and persecution the right to request asylum in another country. As the Trump administration issues new policies that may deny asylum to the most vulnerable, here’s what you need to know.

Who are the people seeking safety at the U.S. border?
People are traveling to escape violence in the perilous “Northern Triangle” region of Central America: Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. They are in urgent need of aid and protection.

Gang violence is rampant in the region. Women and girls are specific targets, with violence leveraged as a method to control families with threats, punishments and extortion. In 2016, El Salvador and Honduras were two of the top 10 countries (outside of those at war) with the highest murder rates of women in the world.

“Fleeing is a dire choice for any family," says Meghan Lopez, who leads the IRC's work in El Salvador. "They are forced to choose between facing certain death or a desperate journey north—protected by other families in the caravan. Yet we know that individuals will not stop fleeing until the root causes of violence are addressed, and military troops or scare-tactics will not dissuade them, because currently there is no place scarier than their homes.”

Why are they heading to the U.S.?
The U.S. once had a tradition of welcome that offered safety and a new start to people escaping violence and persecution. U.S. law clearly grants these asylum seekers the right to apply for asylum.

“It is impossible to apply for asylum without physically arriving to the U.S. border or interior," says Jenn Piatt, the IRC's senior director of Refugee Resettlement & Asylum Policy and Advocacy. "The U.S. helped create international refugee law after the tragedies of World War II, for the very purpose of ensuring that refugees would never again be turned back to harm."

Contrary to the U.S. Administration's claims, and based on the IRC's experience in the region, the fears of persecution among those fleeing Central America are very real: Current levels of violence in the Northern Triangle are akin to those in the world’s deadliest war zones. Violence in the region goes back generations and permeates every aspect of people’s lives. In El Salvador, for example, the current gang crisis was preceded by earthquakes and a civil war, and prior to that there were repressive military dictatorships and ethnic genocide.

The danger does not end when people flee their homes; the path north is fraught with gang violence similar to what they’ve fled. Women, girls and the LGTBQ community are specific targets of violence, with women and children also at risk of human trafficking.

Why can’t they stay in Mexico?
On July 15, the Trump administration announced new restrictions denying asylum to anyone transiting through a third country on their way to safety in the U.S., including Central Americans and others transiting through Mexico. While asylum seekers can be denied if they can be removed to a "safe third country" with which the U.S. has a formal agreement, no such agreement exists between the U.S. and Mexico.

With violence on the rise, Mexico is not a safe haven for people seeking asylum. In April, the IRC released a survey that demonstrated that people residing in shelters in Mexico—and particularly women and children—are at risk kidnapping, gang recruitment, sexual abuse and other physical violence.

According to a report by Human Rights First, 2017 was Mexico’s deadliest on record with more than 29,000 homicides—a 27 percent increase from 2016. In fact, the high crime levels prompted the U.S. State Department to issue its highest level of travel warning for five Mexican states.

What should the U.S. do?
All countries have the right to control their borders, and all people—asylum seekers, refugees and others—have a right to due process and to have their cases heard when seeking safety from violence.

Criminalizing these asylum seekers and turning them away puts families back in harm’s way. As the U.S. proposes to deny asylum to Central Americans and others transiting through Mexico to the U.S., the IRC urges the U.S. Administration to uphold asylum protections for Central Americans.

The IRC also calls on the U.S. Administration to refocus its efforts on violence prevention—supporting Central American countries’ efforts to reduce the violence that is driving people from their homes, and to respond to their needs, and eventually make life livable in the Northern Triangle. "In the meantime, pursuing policies that inflict trauma on families and deport them to countries where they face harm will only add to wide-scale instability, and insecurity,” said Piatt.

The IRC is also calling for the U.S. to provide funding for humanitarian aid along dangerous migration routes. Threats of pulling aid only undermine U.S. allies who are in a position to address the root cause, not the symptoms, of this crisis.

How is the IRC helping?
As part of the assistance we provide in Mexico, the IRC is working with local partners to launch a COVID-19 public health awareness campaign along with psychosocial support in shelters at the Mexico-U.S. border in Ciudad Juárez.

The project will directly benefit 17 shelters hosting approximately 3,000 people and reach an additional 10,000 in surrounding host communities. The initiative will include sessions on the transmission of COVID-19, protective and preventive measures, including identification of at-risk groups, signs and symptoms of COVID-19, where to access help and support, reinforcement of public health best practices and the distribution of hygiene kits.

In El Salvador, the IRC provides emergency assistance to help those who are most at risk to find shelter and safety, as well as cash assistance to help people rebuild their lives. We also launched CuéntaNos, an interactive service that provides trustworthy, up-to-date information for people affected by crisis.

In the U.S., the IRC will continue to help meet asylum seekers’ basic needs, facilitate family reunifications, connect people to critical legal services and help them access psychosocial support.

Lincy was persecuted for being trans in Honduras
Lincy was persecuted for being trans in Honduras
Salvadoran sisters whose family fled gang violence
Salvadoran sisters whose family fled gang violence
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IRC paramedics screening Sakera in triage section.
IRC paramedics screening Sakera in triage section.

As the novel coronavirus continues to spread globally, people living in crisis will be hit hardest, and vulnerable families need immediate access to medical care. The International Rescue Committee is scaling up our response to the pandemic, providing lifesaving programs to vulnerable communities in over 40 countries worldwide, including the United States.

To help rescue lives, the IRC teams require emergency supplies. $60 can provide such essential items including protective gear, to effectively screen and educate communities to prevent the spread of contagious diseases such as COVID-19.

Additional supplies include foldable stretchers to transport at-risk pregnant women to medical facilities in conflict zones in Syria and Iraq.

Especially during this global pandemic, IRC is sending mobile teams to provide medical care to children in the most remote and hard-to-reach places in the world. Our teams navigate rocky terrain, mudslides and other treacherous conditions to reach children.

We also provide children and adults with preventative care and clean water, which is all the more critical now with the COVID-19 outbreak. Without our mobile health clinics, many children in war-torn Yemen and Nigeria would not have access to health care.

$500 can equip a mobile medical team with items such as scales, medical equipment, patient cards and tables, as well as protective gear to prevent the spread of contagious diseases like the coronavirus.

Thank you for your unwavering support.


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The International Rescue Committee responds to the world's worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. The IRC helps vulnerable people in 40 counties and 25 cities across the U.S. Below is a story of a refugee family and the IRC’s work to support them.

When he was 16 years old, Robert started a diary. He didn’t know if he was a good writer or not; he wasn’t able to finish high school, since he couldn’t afford the fees. Regardless, Robert felt a sense of relief as he scribbled down his experiences, thoughts and feelings.

“One might say: I am a dreamer, a young bird growing its wings,” he wrote in one of his entries. “Call me whatever you please but I am young and determined to expand my horizons. I am hopeless and lose weight when I flash back to the past, but I regain when I look forward to the future.”

That entry addressed the harsh realities of growing up in a refugee camp in Uganda, where Robert would live for more than 20 years after escaping war in Democratic Republic of Congo. He also wrote about his most cherished aspirations: to establish a real home, obtain an education, and live a purposeful life.

“I am a young boy with a lot of zeal for life, a lot of life energy for happiness and with a vision,” he wrote.

At the age of 28, Robert has fulfilled some of his dreams—he now lives in America, enjoys a steady job, bought his first house, and is saving to go back to school.

‘Come faster, come—run!’

Robert was just four years old when the massacre happened. He remembers it was a Tuesday—Tuesdays were when his parents would go to market. His neighbors kept an eye on him as he kicked around a soccer ball. At one point, Robert heard loud noises. At first, he thought the sounds were some sort of alarm to warn the community of buffalos entering the town.

“But it was war,” Robert says.

The noises were gunshots. Robert saw his neighbors running. Unaware of what was happening, he ignored the chaos and continued to play—until bullets flew in front of him.

“I saw fire. The bullets were coming so close to me. I started crying. I shouted ‘Mom!’ but my mom was not around. Then my auntie, she lived close by, started calling.

“She was like, ‘My son, come.’ And I said, ‘What's going on?’ She said, ‘Come faster, come faster, come—run.’”

Robert and his aunt couldn’t run far. She was eight months pregnant, so they hid. Armed men found them, dragging Robert and his aunt into the streets.

Robert was hit repeatedly with the barrel of the gun. One of the men put his hand over his mouth so he wouldn’t scream. The four-year-old was forced to watch as another man decapitated his aunt.

“Then, they beat me almost to death.”

Robert was left lying among dead bodies for several days, he later learned. An anonymous woman picked him up, wrapped a blanket around his small body, and carried him across the border to Uganda, where she handed him to the American Red Cross. He was rushed to the hospital and later, miraculously, was reunited with his parents in a refugee camp.

‘I never thought I could do this…’

Robert turns quiet after recounting his story. He folds his hands neatly on his lap; his eyes are wide and bright.

Despite the pain and trauma that he carries with him to this day, he feels that sharing his story helps him to remain resilient as he starts a new life in the United States.

Robert was resettled by the International Rescue Committee in Phoenix in 2016. He came to America with his wife, Esther, who is 25, and their children, Sandra, 5, and Agape, 4. The couple’s toddler, Raza, was born in Arizona.

The IRC helped Robert and Esther find jobs at a warehouse—Esther works morning shifts and Robert evening hours. With the IRC’s support, the couple saved money and built up credit. They enrolled in English classes and studied American culture and laws. And they managed to buy a house.

“It was really a dream,” Robert says, describing the day he received the keys to their home. “I never thought I could do this in America.”

Five-year-old Sandra plays with her little brother, Agape who is four, at a nearby park. “Sandra loves school,” Esther says. “She wakes up during the weekend and asks to go to school.”

‘We are human beings looking for hope’

When Robert reflects on how much his life has changed, he always comes back to the same realization: “Refugees can almost do anything if they are given the opportunity.” 

This is the message he gave to a group of college students at Arizona State University where recently he was invited to speak.

“I will never stop speaking about refugees, because they’re my family,” he says. “We share similar experiences. No matter where we are from. I told [the students that] refugees are people who are trying to take new steps in life...We are human beings looking for hope.”

Robert still regrets not finishing high school, and he wants to resume his studies with a focus on human rights. “I want to defend people,” he says, speaking with passion. Robert is determined to accomplish this goal, no matter how long it takes. When things get tough, he looks back at that diary entry he wrote at 16.

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Every day refugee families face unspeakable circumstances. They're forced to flee violence in Syria with their toddlers in their arms, have little food to eat or water to drink in drought-stricken Somalia, are stranded in Greece in dangerous living conditions...

The reality of President Trump's decision to slash the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. next year by nearly half impacts so many refugee families who are already facing dire situations.

America has always been a beacon of hope for those in need — a true global leader in response to the refugee crisis. It’s unconscionable that this administration has turned its back on the most vulnerable among us. But I assure you, my colleagues and I will never stop working to help as many refugees as possible. And we need you with us in the months to come.

You can help us support stranded families now. We aid refugees around the world and help refugees who are resettled here in the U.S. Help us provide them with trauma counseling, health care, emergency aid, water and sanitation and other critical assistance by donating today.

Thanks for continuing to stand with refugees

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The United States’ proposed departure from the Flores Settlement, a landmark 1997 agreement which established minimum standards for the care, custody, and release of all children in immigration detention, is not something the IRC will stand for.

The Flores Settlement Agreement was reached following over a decade of litigation brought by children from Central America against the U.S. government in response to their prolonged detention and mistreatment in federal custody in the 1980s.

Jenn Piatt, Senior Director, Refugee Resettlement and Asylum Policy and Advocacy at the International Rescue Committee:

“At a time when the administration has argued children do not even deserve a toothbrush, it seeks to undermine the minimum protections in Flores. A departure from Flores will only exacerbate the dangerous conditions in detention centers revealed recently by the HHS Inspector General, further subject children to inhumane treatment, and possibly subject children to indefinite detention. Seeking asylum is legal, and nobody – least of all children – should be punished for doing so.

“The administration needs a history lesson. Flores was put into place because the government routinely demonstrated that it was incapable of treating children in civil immigration detention even remotely well. For decades in America, immigrant children were subjected to prolonged detention with unrelated adults and criminal offenders, simply for seeking safety. Further, these children were subject to sexually-invasive strip searches, denied basic food and water, and had inadequate access to educational services – all while languishing in detention for years in many cases.

“This rule does not uphold the spirit of Flores and should be swiftly challenged. Based on comments by DHS this morning, it appears the administration already knows this and instead of working to improve conditions for children, the administration seeks to move ahead with policies that are legally insufficient and would not protect children.”

We are at the border right now providing emergency aid to asylum seekers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can help us provide food, water, access to medical assistance and legal counseling, clothing and emergency shelter. Your gift will also support our work at the root of the crisis in Central America, where many asylum-seekers have fled, and in more than 40 countries around the world.


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Organization Information

International Rescue Committee

Location: New York, NY - USA
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @RESCUEorg
Project Leader:
Alix Samuel
New York, NY United States
$7,621 raised of $20,000 goal
101 donations
$12,379 to go
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Emergency Care for a Child | $23 can provide a malnourished child with emergency care, including antibiotics, IV fluids and glucose, as well as supplies to keep a child healthy after recovery.
Safe Passage | $36 can provide refugees with critical information on how to access medical care, asylum services, and what to do in case their family is separated.
English Classes for Refugees | Learning English is a critical step for refugees as they begin their new life, apply for jobs and integrate into their communities.
Year of School | $58 can supply the tuition, books and other supplies a girl needs to attend school for a year.
Reuniting a Refugee Family | Our teams work tirelessly in some of the toughest conditions in the world to locate the child's family, get in contact with them and bring them together once again.
Community Health Worker Training | IRC-trained local health workers treat patients in their own communities for everything from eye infections to malaria, saving thousands of lives.
Mobile Medical Clinics | Our teams navigate rocky terrain, mudslides and other treacherous conditions to reach children and treat them for malnutrition, cholera, and other life-threatening illnesses.
Emergency Classroom | These emergency classrooms, provide a safe space for children to learn, express themselves and bond with other children, many of whom have lost friends and family members.
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