I know what it’s like to be a refugee.
I fled Iraq when I was 18, in the middle of a war with Iran, took a bus to Amman, Jordan, and eventually made my way to Dallas-Fort Worth.
World Refugee Day, observed each year on June 20, calls attention to the plight of refugees abroad or struggling to adapt to life in America — a situation I witness regularly as the founder of World Refugee Care.
When a refugee family comes to a new country, the members of that family experience the transition differently. It usually takes three generations for a family to fully assimilate in a new nation:
▪ First generation: They experience a new life, a new culture, and a new language — yet will see themselves as outsiders for probably their entire lives.
▪ Second generation: These are the children of first-generation refugees who usually still speak their parents’ language but begin to take on characteristics of their new culture.
▪ Third generation: By now, the family has fully taken on the cultural identity of the nation in which they’ve settled.
It takes different approaches to help refugee families from the first two generations.
First-generation refugees need intensive help with some of the most basic tasks. Just making it through day-to-day living is a struggle. Once they’ve begun to manage simple daily living, helping them can focus on education and cultural assimilation.
Second-generation refugees are usually much quicker to learn the ins and outs of daily life in a new country. Much of the help that we can afford them is centered on education and cultural assimilation.
Cultural assimilation is vital. Many nations emphasize accommodation over assimilation, which I believe is damaging. If refugees come to a new country, they must learn its manners and customs — but they need your help to do it.
Christian refugees coming to Western nations seem to be the most willing to assimilate.
Many Muslim refugees see Western culture as something to avoid — which is the root of the problem facing many European countries as first-generation Muslim refugees refuse to assimilate. In these situations, extremism festers and terrorism becomes a greater risk.
It’s puzzling to me, then, when I see Christian refugees — especially those from the Middle East — denied acceptance by Western nations.
As someone who has experienced their plight, I hate seeing their suffering prolonged.
The Islamic State group and other extremists give them three choices: convert, pay jizya (a tax on non-Muslims) or leave.
The extremists have killed many people simply for being Christians, and they have taken others as sex slaves and sold them in the market based on their age.
And if people are believed to be working with Western nations, they face death.
A Muslim found working with Westerners will often declare repentance and ask for forgiveness — the Islamic State will grant it — but there is no mercy for Christians.
Yet even though they may lose their earthly treasures, and even their lives, they hold onto their faith rather than convert.
I’ve visited many churches to ask them to help refugees here and abroad. And I’m sad to say there’s reluctance among many to invest in caring for these families.
I hear things like, “That’s not part of our program.”
Let me be clear: We have a short window of opportunity now to save millions of lives. Whether it’s by helping refugees in America, or bringing the relief to them where they are, we have the ability to literally save lives.
Refugees — Christian and Muslim — need physical help and spiritual hope.
And just about everyone in this country has the capacity to do something about that.
Jalil Dawood is the founder of Plano-based World Refugee Care. This article is adapted from “The Refugee: A Story of God’s Grace and Hope on One Man’s Road to Refuge.”