Tears: Excerpts from an RSC/Nairobi caseworker's journal

A mother and three small children shuffle into my room. Her story is typical of this group of Somali refugees militia attacked her home, shot her father, and beat her mother with the butts of their guns. She fled and in the chaos, was separated from her mother and brother. She walked with her sister to the border, entered Kenya in 1992 and moved to the refugee camp, where she's lived ever since.

A caseworker with the Nairobi-based CWS Resettlement Support Center (formerly Overseas Processing Entity or OPE), Rosalie Hughes helps compile case files of refugees being considered for U.S. resettlement. And she keeps a journal. Here is an excerpt. Read additional entries here.

DADAAB, KENYA – A mother and three small children shuffle into my room. Her story is typical of this group of Somali refugees – militia attacked her home, shot her father, and beat her mother with the butts of their guns. She fled and in the chaos, was separated from her mother and brother. She walked with her sister to the border, entered Kenya in 1992 and moved to the refugee camp, where she's lived ever since.

In the camp, she got married, had three kids, was raped, then her husband divorced her. I ask, "What happened to your sister?" She pauses. Her eyes get shiny. She tells me her sister returned to Somalia in 2006 to search for their mother and brother. One month later she learned her sister had died of diarrhea.

Congolese and Burundian refugees in Malawi
U.S.-bound Congolese and Burundian refugees in Malawi upon completion of Cultural Orientation conducted by CWS RSC/Nairobi.
Photo copyright Amina Egal (used with permission).

A tear rolls down her cheek. I stop typing, look up. She dots her face with the tip of her headscarf and we move on. Of all the horrific stories of family destruction and death, these are the first tears I've witnessed.

I get used to the routine questions – When did your parents die, of what? How do you know it was the militia who attacked them? Did you see them with your own eyes? I remove myself from the story.

This woman's tears reminded me that these stories, however sanitized and distant they may sound as the refugees recount them for the hundredth time, are not just important points for their claim of refugee status – the stories have scarred and strengthened; in some cases, they've pushed people over the edge of sanity. These women's tears stopped me today. I am grateful.

Media Contact:
Lesley Crosson, 212-870-2676, lcrosson@churchworldservice.org
Jan Dragin, 781-925-1526, jdragin@gis.net


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