Ibrahim (66), Susanna (35), Amose (6), Lea (5). This family spent 28 years in a refugee camp in Congo and have been in Las Vegas about 9 months.
June 20th is World Refugee Day as deemed by the United Nations. Held every year to “…commemorate the strength, courage and perseverance of millions of refugees. This year, World Refugee Day also marks a key moment for the public to show support for families forced to flee.”
Refugees and those being settled in the US is currently a hot-button topic with cries for more in-depth vetting processes. However what I think most aren’t aware of, is how extensive and comprehensive the vetting process currently stands. I’m not going to address the various reasons families become refugees, however I do think we can all agree that it is a matter of survival as these families are fleeing from war and persecution. According to the US State Department, in fiscal year 2016, the United States welcomed nearly 85,000 refugees. Roughly 72% of these refugees were women and children.
Once a family or individual reaches a refugee camp, it is an extensive and often times 5+ year process in order to make the final steps into a new country. The process first starts with registering and being interviewed by the UN just to be granted refugee status. At that point, the UN determines those in the most dire of situations and recommends them for resettlement, which accounts for only about 1% of the total worldwide refugee population. The families do not have a choice in which country they will resettle, they are assigned and sent to a country based upon the UN’s evaluation. Because such a small percentage are chosen for resettlement, it lends itself to families spending years in a refugee camp, awaiting their turn.
If a family is lucky to move forward in the process, they will undergo a series of interviews, up to 3 levels of fingerprint and biometric screening and having their photos taken. Case workers in the US Immigration, US State Department as well as Homeland Security complete comprehensive and extensive checks, as well as an in-person interview with Homeland Security. If successful at each of these steps, final approval is required from Homeland Security where they will then undergo screening for contagious diseases, attend cultural orientation classes and be matched to an American resettlement agency. Another final check is conducted before leaving for the US due to long periods of time from the first checks to the final in the process, and another check is completed upon arrival at an American airport.
Due to the dire situation that refugees are facing and the amount of press and awareness brought to this issue, I recently reached out to a local organization called Lighthouse Charities which serves refugees and low income families while they strive to become self reliant. I met with Cindy Trussel, the founder, and talked with her about my idea to photograph and share the stories of local refugee families that have been placed in Las Vegas. As a thank you, I will be printing an 8×10 print of the family portrait to give each family as a memento to keep. So many families lost everything in their quest to leave their home countries for a safer and better place to live, often times arriving in the US with only the clothes on their back.
On today, World Refugee Day, I wanted to share some of the stories of these refugee families that have come to make Las Vegas their new home. Lighthouse Charities services about 14,000 families a month, and just last year provided over 1.2 million pounds of food citywide to these families. Of the population that has come to Las Vegas, about 70% are from Cuba, 15% from Africa, and 15% from Syria. Even though these families have come from horrific experiences, faced the odds of being vetted and then allowed to come to the US, there are success stories that have arisen from the ashes of their past as we see these families assimilate into a new life.
Mousa (father), Azaza (mother), Soumeya (14 yo), Hassan (10 yo), Moerwa (5 yo). This family was in a refugee camp in Sudan since 2004 and arrived in Las Vegas in March of this year.
Soumeya, 14 years old
Elizabeth (28 yo), Aaron (8 yo), Annette (6 yo), Jovia (4 yo), Diana (1 yo). This family was in a refugee camp in Congo for 20 years and have been in Las Vegas for only 9 months.
Jovia (4 yo), Aaron (8 yo), Annette (6 yo)
Rosie (17 yo), Sarah (11 yo), David (10 yo), Solange (7 yo). This family is from Congo and spent 17 years in a refugee camp in Burundi. They have been in the US for a little over 1 year.
Susan (22 yo), Yasumini (19 yo), Bimwana (15 yo), Haula (13 yo), Akida (7 yo), and Asia (5 yo). This family is from Congo and has been in the US for about 9 months.
Neema (15 yo), Aimee (12 yo), Sandrine (9 yo), Patrick (7 yo), Dleudonne (7 yo). This family is from Congo.
Laisa (11 yo), Sostaine (9 yo). This family is from Tanzania and was in a refugee camp in Kenya for 15 years.
I would like to send a huge thank you to Cindy and her volunteers at Lighthouse Charities for the enormous amount of work they do to make this organization a success. They tirelessly work with no member taking any pay, and do it solely for the benefit of these new members of our society. It has also been a tremendous undertaking to organize the photo shoots and transporting the families to the studio for their portraits, as this ongoing project continues to grow. If you would like more information on Lighthouse Charities, please visit their website: http://www.lighthousecharities.net/.