Understanding the Refugee Experience


By Joy Ayioka, Women AdvaNCe Summer Intern


“This not about sharing a burden. It is about sharing a global responsibility, based not only the broad idea of our common humanity but also on the very specific obligations of international law. The root problems are war and hatred, both people who flee; refugees are among the first victims of terrorism.”

-UN Secretary-General, António Guterres


There is a refugee crisis in the world that we cannot turn away from. According to the UN Refugee Agency, a refugee is anyone who is forced to flee their country due to persecution, violence, or war. They are persecuted due to their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or association with particular social groups. There are 22.5 million refugees in this world today, and 55% of which are people from just three countries: Syria, Afghanistan, and South Sudan.

Addressing the refugee crisis simply means giving children, mothers, and fathers hope by allowing them a fair chance at life. It is heartbreaking hearing stories about kids who were born in refugee camps and are still there 20 years later. What was supposed to be a temporary situation becomes the harsh reality that they must live with. But what if we can change that reality? What if we allowed these people a fair and equal chance at dreaming, and can help them make their dreams a reality? And we can, because we come from a place of privilege in which we do not live in fear of persecution or the violation of our human rights.

As an immigrant, I have come across countless refugees, all of which have become family, friends, mentors, and confidants. I understand their struggles because I know what it’s like to leave your whole life behind in search of a better one. I not only understand the pain and hardships that they have gone through, but I constantly work to help make my community as safe and as welcoming as I can.

Unlike my experience as an immigrant who chose to come to this country, refugees were forced out of their home and can never return. No one can ever truly understand the trauma, pain, and heartbreak that these refugees face. During a conversation with a friend of mine who is a refugee, she described her experience as a nightmare that she has to relive every day. She got a chance to escape that harsh reality, but there are still millions of people across the globe that live in refugee camps at the mercy of aid.

As World Refugee Day comes around this year, I ask us to reflect back on our life experiences and the opportunities that we have received to change our own destinies and futures. Someone along our journey saw the burning hope in our eye and gave us the chance to work towards our goals. And I ask us all to do the same. So here is what you can do:


  •    Welcome a refugee family into your home for a meal and learn about their experiences.
  •    Donate to different organizations that work to resettle refugees.
  •    Volunteer at agencies or organizations that work with refugee resettlement.
  •    Advocate on behalf of refugees to your representatives.
  •    Welcome refugees into your neighborhood and communities.


Learn more about the refugee crisis at:



International Rescue Committee


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