Finding Peace In Columbus, Ohio

When discussing peace and refugee resettlement, it is important to understand that the refugee resettlement program exists because there is a lack of peace in the world. Families from Somalia are fleeing an ongoing civil war; Burmese flee from government persecution; Sudanese flee the genocide in Darfur, and the list continues. The families that Community Refugee and Immigration Services (CRIS) serves come from all over the world, yet what is common among all is the persecution they faced in their home countries and their desire to live peaceful lives.

One might believe that for refugees, the United States is a place of redemption, yet the reality is more complex.

Even after resettlement, there are many hurdles families must overcome in order to successfully integrate into the community. After refugees come to the United States, they immediately must acclimate to local culture, begin learning English, navigate public transportation, enroll children in school, secure employment, and begin to repay their travel loans. All this, coupled with culture shock, and the stress of having family still abroad and possibly in danger is taxing for families. CRIS works closely with refugee families as they make this transition and establish themselves in the United States. We bear witness to both the triumphs and the struggles.

Working with families who are survivors of mass violence, we must grapple with the meaning of peace. Is it the absolute absence of war and unrest? Is it some enlightened state of tranquility?

None of these definitions seem complete.

Instead, we must look for peace in the everyday moments. There is peace when a family is reunited at the airport. There is peace on a child’s first day of school. There is peace when a refugee obtains their first American job. There is peace when a refugee becomes a U.S. citizen.

Too often immigrants are seen as a burden on society, people who take, but never give. This simply is not true. Up until recently, we could only speak anecdotally about the economic success of the families CRIS serves. With the release of a new study, The Economic Impact of Refugees in Central Ohio, the greater Columbus community can now appreciate what CRIS staff have known all along. Despite the need for initial assistance, the families we serve soon blossom and thrive.

The narrative of the refugee is not one of victimhood; the families resettled are survivors. They are resilient, even in the face of extreme adversity. They enrich the fabric of Central Ohio and the United States at large. They are excited and proud to be Americans, and the greater community should embrace them as such and help them settle into a life of peace.

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Elizabeth Thomas is the AmeriCorp VISTA Community Resource Coordinator for Community Refugee and Immigration Services (CRIS) in Columbus, Ohio.

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