Learning about refugees in France

Ana Luquerna, English Teaching Assistant, Lycée Aristide Maillol (Perpignan), 2016-2017

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This past year I served as an English Teaching Assistant in Perpignan, France through the Fulbright Scholarship Program. Interacting with so many diverse students opened my eyes to the importance of fair access to education. Seeing the effort that teachers make to provide their students the best quality education even with limited resources is making me leave France with an admiration for those who pursue the field of education.

However, my time in France has reinforced my passion to pursue international law. Being an international refugee myself, I have sought to gain as much knowledge as possible about the current international migration situation in Europe and learn about the intricacies of international law, migration, and human rights. To accomplish this goal, I currently volunteer at La Cimade, a non-profit organization where I assist migrants and refugees with their asylum application process and translate asylum-seeker records from English and Spanish to French. Having the chance to interact with migrants from all over the world has taught me invaluable lessons. I have learned about the balance between logic and empathy that must be reached in order to provide migrants the adequate help they require. Learning about their journey, challenges, and daily struggles to fit in has also heightened my pride to live in the United States of America, a country that from the beginning has supported and empowered immigrants like me to pursue the American Dream.

Furthermore, in March, Fulbright awarded me a Fulbright Research Grant to work with non-profit organizations in Lille and Calais interviewing refugees.  These informal interviews sought to further understand and document the realities of migration in northern France. I met with refugees from Sudan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Syria. Their life stories and journey to France were captivating.

What surprised me the most was the refugees’ willingness to share their stories. They explained to me that homesickness and loneliness often left them without an outlet for expression. Having someone to listen to them and to exchange refugee stories with made them feel less like a refugee for at least that brief conversation. One Sudanese refugee explained to me, “My religion tells me to love. My religion tells me to make friends and to help people. My religions tells me that no matter whether you are Colombian, American, Christian, or not, I see you now as my little sister who I would protect from any danger.” These Calais refugees deeply touched me and made me see immigration from a much more personal lens than before. Their desire to integrate into French society and to learn French made me wish that more of their stories were heard, so refugees would be less misunderstood. Thus, I am now working with a representative from DEEP and the University of Lille in order to create a translated video with personal narratives from Calais refugees.

Personally working with other migrants and refugees bolstered my conviction that I want to work in the international human rights legal field in the future. Next year, I will be pursuing a Master’s degree in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies at Oxford followed by law school in the United States. I want to use this blog post to thank the migrants and refugees that I have met this year and that have fueled my passion for helping them in the future.

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