For Selena Sujoldzic, the U.S. response to Syrian refugees has been deeply personal. Selena serves on LIRS’s Board of Directors, and she has been deeply involved in the Migrant and Refugee Leadership Academy as a participant and part of the planning committee. She shares the story of her own journey to safety as a refugee from Bosnia.
She and her family went through security screenings and background checks that have become even more thorough following 9/11. You can learn more about the 21-step screening process for Syrian refugees here.
For Selena, heartbreaking images of children washed ashore and harsh depictions of refugees remind her of her own path to safety. This moving account of Selena’s own experiences as a refugee gives us a glimpse of the experiences of Syrian refugees today, and prompts us to ask, how can we help?
“Like many Americans, I have been following the refugee crisis in Europe very closely. This situation is close to home for me and it hit me right in the heart.
One morning I was watching the news and there was a live report from Austria where refugees were preparing for their trip to Germany. The camera showed a live feed of two buses arriving at the meeting point in Austria. I watched the refugees as they got off the buses and observed the cheering and clapping of everyone there.
These images took me right back to when my mom, grandma, brother and I were watching my dad get on the bus so he could reach Croatia first to help us escape from Bosnia. I remember all the people standing around, watching loved ones leave, faces in the windows of the buses. My dad waived and held back tears, not knowing if he would see us again, but also knowing that there was no other way.
I remember how scared I was, at 12 years old, because I couldn’t fully comprehend what was coming next—where do I go from here, am I really safe?
When I saw those people getting off the bus in Austria, tears were coming down my face without my even noticing, until a tear dropped on my hand and I touched my face.
It was as if I were there with them: I knew the smell in the air, I knew the feel of the air, I could almost smell the gasoline from the bus, I could feel their exhaustion, happiness to be there, confusion as to why they were kicked out of Hungary but here, the people were still cheering.
I recognized the internal battle of whether to trust this safety or be on guard. I was right there with them and it took me a while to stop the tears.
After seeing these images, and reflecting back on my own experiences as a refugee, I want to know what I can do to help.
I thank America every day for not turning its back on my family and me, for not sitting back and watching, but letting me into its land and saving me.
While many tears came this morning, I am a person of action and I immediately began to ask, “what needs to be done and how can I do it?”
I can donate, I can reach out to the government with letters pleading to open the doors to the refugees, and I can raise awareness through my social media. Together, we can all do more. As migrants and refugees, we must support resettlement efforts and lend a hand to welcome the stranger, as we were welcomed before, and turn them from a stranger into our friend.
As former refugees, we all carry a very powerful story of overcoming incredible challenges and finding new hope. This is one of our most powerful assets.”
Governors in 31 states have said that Syrian refugees, among the most vulnerable people, are no longer welcome in their states. Will you stand with Selena and with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service? Will you stand for welcome? Visit our Action Center to urge your elected officials to support and protect Syrian refugees.