Spokane’s Refugees: The Security Process

Fawzia is a refugee from Sudan. Refugees must pass through seemingly endless steps before they reach safety in the U.S. Fawzia shared her story about the security process with writers: Ben Shedlock and Lucinda Kay. This story is part of a series on Spokane’s refugees. #RefugeeCrisis #HomeSweetSpokane

Life changed forever in 2001, you know? It got so much harder. I always had to explain to so many people, so many security officers, so many agencies, about my travels, my history and my purpose every single time I wanted to go anywhere.

Maybe you know what I mean.

Life changed forever in 2001. That’s the year I had to run from my own country of Sudan and run to Cairo. I had to go. My father was dead, I’d been shot and my husband had already escaped.

My name is Fawzia; I’m a refugee from Sudan. My chapter is about security.

Life changed for everyone in 2001. I know you suffered. Traveling became hard for you, too. And for many months, America did not accept any refugees like me. When America finally said yes to refugees again, more security asked so many more questions. New agencies asked us:

Why did you come, what has happened to you?

Where is your family?

They asked about security. About war.

America checked our backgrounds, and still, refugees wait many years to find safety in America. When I ran away, I lived in Cairo, in a neighborhood called Mohandiseen. My husband ran to Egypt in 1999, so I went where he was. I was there for 12 years before I could escape to America.

We had no food, so school, no job, no medicine, no government to help us, no government to claim us. I was very sad. But when we don’t have, other people help. When I arrived in Cairo, my husband took me to the United Nations to register as a refugee. I told them why I came and what happened in Sudan. I told them about my family, about security and about war. That meeting took 4 hours. I was afraid to tell them everything. In my country, women don’t always talk. We are shy.

The U.N. rejected my application. They didn’t understand me. I think it’s because I speak Arabic, and they are foreign: they are not Arab, not American. We appealed. They told me to wait two years. I said it’s too long. We went back to the U.N. sixteen times. Each visit was maybe two hours. I would feel happy when I went, but after two or three months, I’d just feel sad. It feels like we had to go to the U.N. one hundred times.

Each time I explained why I came, what happened in Sudan, what happened to my family, about security, about war; but I’m not scared because I am a refugee.

The UN is just the beginning of the process for refugees who come to America. After the UN accepts us, we go to a resettlement support center that works with America. Again, we must explain what happened in our country, what happened to our family, about security and about war.

We give fingerprints so the new agencies like homeland security can check out names. The state department investigates, then Homeland Security interviews every refugee, again. And even after all this time, they can deny the application.

For me, all these meetings took nine years. I was sad, I lived in danger, but at every meeting, I’d feel happy again because someone was listening to me and my history. America accepted my application and sent it to the state department. I went to the International Organization for Migration. I had three meetings. First I had medical tests. Then they asked me what happened in Sudan, where is your family, about security, and about war. The last interview earned us a ride to the airplane.

After the state department received my application, it was sent to one of eight agencies who would help me start a new life in America.

World Relief got my application in 2013.

In 2001, the U.N. told me to wait two years for my appeal, and I said it was too long. Then I took twelve years before I came to America, and told my story many times. Even today, after I have been accepted, I must still explain what happened in Sudan, what happened to my family about security and about war.

For a shy woman, this is a lot to say.

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