Some of you followed my work in Hong Kong, during which time I worked at a small nonprofit as an attorney providing legal representation to refugees seeking asylum, who managed to make their way, by fleeing purposefully or being trafficked, to Hong Kong. My clients came from all over Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. They fled persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Many were also torture survivors. Because Hong Kong has not signed the Refugee Convention, those few asylum seekers who win their legal cases, (and are thus recognized legally as refugees instead of being deported) are not allowed to stay in Hong Kong, but must be resettled to a third country that resettles refugees.
One such client, a courageous woman from East Africa, will be resettled to the U.S. on August 11. I met Almaz* in 2011, and sat with her as we began piecing together her story to present to the UN Refugee Agency's tribunal as testimony to support her case, and so I could begin forming my legal arguments. Almaz fled her country because she was persecuted for her religious and political beliefs. Hailing from an oppressive country, Almaz was twice imprisoned in military camps for exercising her freedom of religion. Because Almaz refused to renounce her religious beliefs and conform to her one of her country's mandated religions, she was tortured horrifically in these undergound torture camps for a period of time totalling almost two years. After narrowly escaping death, Almaz braved a treacherous escape from her country, and landed in Hong Kong.
The legal process in Hong Kong is frought with many problems, such as serious lack of capacity, violations of due process, severe understaffing, lack of interpreters, inadequate training in legal and cultural competency, and extremely lengthy proceedings and delays in decisions, generally lasting years. Additionally, asylum seekers are neither allowed to work or volunteer in Hong Kong, and live in dire poverty for years as they await the results of their cases. They flee persecution and torture, believing they will arrive to a safe haven, only to arrive to a different kind of hell.
I watched Almaz persevere through the emotional trauma of having to recount her story to me multiple times, answer intrusive and often unfortunately highly inappropriate questions tinged by racial and religious bias from officials, and endure persisent medical issues resulting from her torture. The whole time, even through tears, Almaz maintained a spirit of indescribable hope for the future, and joy at being alive.
I finished my work on Almaz's case in 2012. Because of the lengthy process, the case was decided (successfully!) in June 2013. The resettlement process then takes another year or two, but the agencies handling resettlement logistics only give several weeks' notice once they have purchased the flight.
I just found out Almaz will be arriving in the U.S. on August 11th. I will be serving as her U.S. tie, which means I have the pleasure of helping find her an apartment, furnishing it, and helping her integrate into the U.S.
This is where I need your help.
Refugees get a small amount of money to start their new lives here, and must quickly learn to function in a completely foreign society, often in an unfamiliar language, take the first job they can find, often alone. They also arrive several thousand dollars in debt, as they must pay back the agency for their flights.
Almaz has endured unspeakable atrocities, and has related ongoing medical concerns she must address. I have less than two weeks to find her an apartment, furnish it, and prepare for her arrival. I'm asking friends and allies to donate funds to help her pay for her flight, furnish her apartment, pay for some ongoing medical and psychological rehabilitative services she will need, and give her a small cushion to start her new life here in America.
If you followed my adventures in Hong Kong with interest, missed me while I was gone but found joy in what I was doing, care about refugees and those less advantaged, or are just looking for a good cause to donate to, please consider donating here. If each person I send this to donates even a small amount, we can make a huge difference in her life. We can never restore to Almaz what has been lost, but we can certainly give her a chance to start a new life of safety and freedom here in America.
Thank you so much!
* Name has been changed to protect her identity.
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