By J. Jimenez
For nearly a decade, Dr. Daniel S. Amick, an associate professor of Anthropology at Loyola University Chicago, has been fostering relationships between college students and refugees living in the Rogers Park and Edgewater neighborhoods.
A refugee, according to the United Nations, is a person forced to flee his or her native country because of unfair persecution from the government, war or violence.
In 2016, 2091 refugees moved to Chicago, according to an archived article from DNAinfo. Last year, 89 teenage refugees entered Rogers Park’s Sullivan High School, according to Chicago Magazine.
Amick became interested in the lives of local refugees in 2008, when a caseworker reached out to ask if she could hold a winter clothing drive at Loyola. Her goal was to collect warm clothing for a group of recently-arrived Burmese refugees, who were wearing shorts and flip flops when they arrived at O’Hare airport.
Refugees, unlike migrants, must often hop on a plane at a moment’s notice, giving them little – if any – time to prepare to move.
Through the caseworker, Amick became friendly with a family who had recently moved from Iraq to Rogers Park.
One day, while teaching a “Human Ecological Footprint” class at Loyola, Amick began telling his students about the Iraqi refugee family he’d “adopted.” He encouraged them to get involved if they were interested. To his surprise, 17 of the students in his class created a student group called Refugee Outreach. The club’s mission is to help refugee families in Rogers Park adapt to their new surroundings.
In 2014, Amick created a new class at Loyola called “Refugee Resettlement.” As part of the class assignments, students volunteer their time throughout the week to different organizations, such as the Ethiopian Community Association of Chicago and Catholic Charities.
The students tutor the families in English, visit them at their new homes and help them fill out paperwork.
Over 350 Loyola students have helped local refugee families through this class.
Many of these students went beyond what was expected of them. For example, a few students were matched with a Bhutanese refugee family.
The father had Leukemia. When he was taken to the hospital, the students visited him and gave the family rides so they wouldn’t have to take the CTA. “They served as intermediaries, helping to communicate between the family and the hospital staff,” says Amick.
Another student spent over 80 hours working with her assigned family.
Other students have remained in contact with their families, long after the semester ends, and graduation passes.
“Unlike many immigrants, who often acculturate quickly because they already have a community they have been integrated into, refugees lack community. They don’t speak the language and they don’t know the [American] customs,” Amick says.
The number of refugees moving to Rogers Park and Edgewater fluctuates. “It depends on the housing market, and what refugee resettlement agencies can find as affordable housing for families,” Amick says.
21,292 refugees will be admitted to this country in 2018, according to the International Rescue Committee. In 2016, former President Obama allowed 85,000 refugees into the country, according to Pew Research Center.
“There has been a 98 percent drop in Syrian refugees and a 90 percent drop in Muslim refugees. [These are] some of the darkest days for the program,” Amick says.
As of April, only 11 Syrian refugees have been resettled in this country, according to NPR.
Background and health checks are long and intensive for refugees, according to the Los Angeles Times. “There are 12 steps for Syrian [refugees] and 11 steps for others,” says Amick. “It’s a year and a half to a two-year process at the minimum [for refugees]. 80 percent of them are women and children. They’re the safest people in the world.”
Amick hopes that others see the value refugees bring to this country. “They are much more likely to become citizens than any other immigrant group, and they advance much more quickly in education and economics. That makes sense since they’re highly motivated. They have no citizenship [as a refugee].”
Amick isn’t just concerned with refugees fleeing persecution. He’s also worried about refugees created by climate change. He organized a panel in the Climate Change Conference at Loyola this year to discuss the impact that climate change has on people, such as displacement.
Refugees displaced by the environment do not get any special status. “They’re forced to migrate, pushed out of their homes by droughts, floods, superstorms,” Amick says. “The U.N. suggests we may have hundreds of millions of people who are being displaced by the consequences of climate change over the next few decades.”
Amick doesn’t believe the current cap on the number of refugees who can enter this country will last beyond President Trump’s term. “I have a lot of faith in the leadership that I see in [younger] generations. To meet [refugees], is to look at America through their eyes, to look at America as someone from the other side of the world.”