Here's How Easy It Is For A Refugee To Get Into America
On an average day, 42,500 people are forced to leave their homes and seek protection elsewhere.
That's just about the population size of Burlington, Vermont.
In 2014, the UN estimated 19.4 million people were forcibly displaced. That's five times the population of Los Angeles.
Imagine now, a population five times the size of America's second-largest city all looking for a new home, all at once.
Some leaders, especially those running for political office, would like you to believe the process is easy; so easy that any old terrorist could sneak right through.
To highlight this, we spoke with one refugee who explained exactly how easy it was to gain protective status and travel 9,725 miles from Zimbabwe to Idaho.
Eight years of running...
“It was a very, very long journey. It's a journey that took me at least eight years, to get resettled,” Fidel Nshombo told Elite Daily. “And now, I've been in America another nine years.”
Fidel is an American, through and through. If anyone has earned that right, it is Fidel.
His journey to America began in 1996, with the first Congo war. At that time, his family, including his parents and his 11 siblings, ran together.
As Fidel explained, they somehow became separated, but quickly were able to reunite when things settled down in his homeland in 1997.
However, only a year later, in 1998, Fidel found himself running again.
Hearing gunfire, he ran away from school. “I went home and everyone was gone,” he said.
So at 12 years old, after witnessing the Hutu massacre a morning church service during the second Congo war, Fidel and a small group of friends ran together.
They fled to Tanzania, and from there continued their journey on foot.
"We walked through the bushes for quite some time,” he said until finally someone offered them a ride to Zimbabwe in the back of a mattress truck.
Along the way, Fidel lost one friend to starvation. “We left him in the forest,” Fidel explained in the documentary, Route to Peace. “I had to continue the journey.”
In Zimbabwe, the UN took him in. Fidel had to lie about his age, saying he was 16 so he could live alone in the refugee camp.
From this moment, Fidel's life would be filled with a series of unfortunate events.
A fugitive at 16...
At 16, Fidel said he “became a fugitive for a year, all my friends went to prison.”
So he ran to Botswana with four other women where he lived in a refugee camp for one year. Fidel explained,
It was a terrible place to live. There was no rain, less food given to refugees, no opportunities, there was nothing. It was like a death camp.
So he ran again, this time taking money to help a man cross the border into South Africa.
Fidel found work and a life in South Africa. However, after witnessing a crime and alerting police, Fidel became the prime enemy to a South African gang. So he ran again.
This time, Fidel ran to Angola to restart his career selling items on the street, however, he quickly learned this too would be a poor decision. So Fidel decided to head back to South Africa.
To get back, Fidel hitched a ride on the back of a truck, but the truck made one fateful stop in Zimbabwe, where he was still a wanted man.
We stopped. We got searched and the police arrested us because we were foreigners.
After being released with some help from the UN, Fidel went to the city with a man he met in the camp, to write a letter of apology to the country of Zimbabwe, a country he considered home.
When I was leaving the office, I got kidnapped again by the police. They put me in a small cell. For one week they locked me in there, beat me up and tortured me and after a week they threw me in the middle of nowhere. They were thinking of killing me, they argued about it a couple of times, but I was exhausted, I passed out.
When he woke up, he was in the hands of the local police once more, this time in Mozambique. However, the police force there did not believe this man, nearly 20, was once a citizen of Congo. They thought he was trying to get into their country illegally, so they deported him back to Zimbabwe where they left him at the border.
He stayed at the border in a prison for several days, until finally the UN located him once more in 2005.
They realized that Zimbabwe did not want me there, so the US finally accepted my application.
Heading for the American Dream...
After eight years, watching friends die, being beaten, tortured, starved and lonely, Fidel was finally going to get to live the American dream.
Fidel simply highlights just how easy refugees have it. All you have to do to get here is nearly die at the hands of your homeland.
And for refugees like Fidel, the streets of America are paved with gold, right?
Upon arrival in the United States, after an 18-month interview process, a refugee is given a three-month stipend of about $1,000.
Think about how easy your life would be moving to a country where you may or may not speak the language after all of your friends are murdered, your home burned to the ground, and you're given three months and $1,000 to get your sh*t together. Luxury, am I right?
If you can't find a job to support you and your family within that time, you're out of luck and on the street.
As a refugee, you also get no preferential job placement. You get in line just like everyone else. Good luck on those applications written in English.
Oh, and once you find a low-paying job, you then must pay back the cost of your flight to get to America. Hope you didn't fly first class.
For Fidel, finding the American dream meant taking a low-paying job as a night security guard at a small hotel in Idaho. Each night, through snow, rain and darkness, Fidel roamed the halls, feeling lucky to have even this.
But Fidel, like all Americans, strived for more. He broke through his own personal darkness and began writing. He is now a family man with four children and a wife, and a published poet living in Idaho, contributing to their community. As Fidel explained, Congo was never his home, Zimbabwe beat and tortured him. It is the US, the place he calls his "savior," that is in his heart as his home.
Becoming a part of the one percent...
For Fidel, the process of applying for refugee status was easy. As he said,
I was persecuted. I was discriminated against, I was rejected, I was beaten up, I was imprisoned, I was tortured, I was refused and denied by the countries that should have received me.
And as Fidel explained, there are millions more like him.
“You still have to meet the criteria which are simple,” Fidel said, adding,
The criteria is you have to prove that you can never go back to your home country because your country is still at war, and at the same you have to prove that you cannot stay in the country where you are as a refugee.
Essentially, you have to prove you aren't welcome anywhere.
“Resettlement is not their second choice or the third choice,” Fidel explained of other refugees adding,
It's not the first choice. It's the last resort.
Refugees are not begging to come to America. They are not hoping for their life to be so tragic and so wrong that the US swoops in to save them. They are hoping for their own home most of all, but as a last resort, are hoping we may be kind enough to offer them a fourth-best option.
"Only 1 percent of refugees will get the chance that I have. And it's because it was because I was about to be killed,” Fidel explained, and his math is correct: Of the 19.4 million people displaced in a year, about 85,000 will get to come to America.
But refugees aren't angry at the US. In fact, as Fidel said, they know America will help.
This is what makes us different from everybody else around the world. Because we step up and we take the first step in helping people that need help.