In the past year, about 85,000 refugees from around the world settled in the United States.
Each refugee undergoes a rigorous screening process that can take years to complete. That experience alone is often exhausting and all-consuming.
Once they arrive, language barriers, lack of economic opportunities, and working in and around complicated systems can make settling in a new country and community very difficult.
"[Refugees] undergo already a very long and painful life," said Chhabi Koirala, who spent 17 years in a refugee camp in Nepal. "They are very tired of being in the camp. And when they come here they see everything different. It's not always what they expect."
The Hornbakery, a group of graduate students from the University of Maryland, explored the confusion and uncertainty many refugees face in a powerful illustrated story below, titled "Amira in America."
The group consists of four women: Andrea Castillo, Carmen Collins, Liz Laribee, and Dolly Martino. "All of us had a personal interest in creating something for people who speak English as a foreign language for a variety of reasons, from experiencing migration to the U.S. firsthand to volunteering with refugees in the U.S.," explained the group in an interview.
"Amira in America" is about a Syrian girl named Amira who is adjusting to her new life in America. She shares a bond with her teacher, an immigrant from Ethiopia, who understands the hardships and isolation that Amira feels in a new land.
The Hornbakery chose to do an illustration about refugees to resonate with a diverse audience. "Pairing the story with the pictures helps get the message across more easily, especially for those who may lack literacy skills, either in English or even in their own language," they explained.
While getting started in a new place is challenging, as this story shows, there are many ways to support and empower new residents.
Koirala now works as a job coach with the Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization (IRCO), a Portland-based nonprofit serving over 30,000 community members each year. The organization provides more than 140 linguistically and culturally specific services and resources, including academic support, community development, parenting education, English courses and more.
In his role, Koirala helps new residents secure employment. He assists with resumes, sets up interviews, and even provides transportation.
You can help refugees in your community too. In fact, Koirala has some tips.
Seek out local organizations and charities in your area, as many desperately need volunteers. Whether it's driving families to and from appointments or serving as a translator or English conversation partner. And as refugees and immigrants settle into their new routines, being a friendly and familiar face in a sea of uncertainty goes a long way. Unsure where or how to start? Koirala says, don't be afraid to speak up.
"Ask folks what they need and how you can help."