As we go about daily life in Arizona, we’re probably not giving a lot of our perpetually distracted brainpower to thinking about refugees. Truly, we are all challenged just trying to focus on getting through the day and taking care of our own. Those images from the ongoing crises in the Middle East, Africa, and the Far East, of people literally running for their lives from war, climate change, economic distress and religious discrimination are not top of mind. Certainly, they are not here in Arizona.
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Except, they are, for those individuals who’ve made it out and made it here in hopes of building a better life. Here on 12news.com and all this week on 12 News on television and through our social media brands, we’re going to introduce you to refugees and refugee communities. This is Arizona Revealed - the first in what we expect will be an ongoing series of reports revealing people and places in our state that few of us have the time to discover, and given the constant pestering of our devices and the rhythm of our lives, may never get a chance to see.
Why refugees and why now? Because as a nation and people, we may believe we are disconnected from a massive humanitarian crisis playing out daily on a gargantuan scale. In fact, we are not now and will not be in the near and distant future.
"... one in every 122 people on the planet today is ‘fleeing a conflict’ at a time when wars between nations 'are at a record low,' said Miliband, a former British foreign secretary. Why? Because we now have nearly 30 civil wars underway in weak states that are 'unable to meet the basic needs of citizens or contain civil war.'"
Miliband was speaking at the annual gathering of world and economic leaders in Davos, Switzerland. At the 2016 World Economic Forum, large-scale involuntary migration was named a top global threat, along with climate change.
That threat, for many Americans and Arizonans, is not to the people on the move but to the homeland. They connect incoming refugees as, at best, disruptive to daily life here, and at worst, strapped to a bomb vest bringing death and terror to our streets and commons.
Despite an ongoing and hideous genocide inflicted on Syrians, Gov. Doug Ducey joined 30-plus of his colleagues in putting up the “not here, not now” sign. Fear drove that decision along with the very American tendency toward isolation from the larger problems of the world.
Against this backdrop, the refugees are arriving anyway. From Burma, Iraq, Bhutan, Nepal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Cuba, the Congo, Syria and other besieged nations, they come and quietly enter Arizona life.
Like generations of others who preceded them -- from Vietnam, Mexico, and Croatia -- they build their communities and businesses while getting an education, maintaining the heritage of the culture left behind and embracing the values and opportunities of the Copper State.
Through Arizona Revealed, 12 News will bring you inside their lives. Our tour guides are Josh Burton, a senior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Criselda Marie Z. Caringal, a Hubert Humphrey Fellow at Cronkite.
Josh is a documentarian and filmmaker who wants to take us to places that we’ve never seen. Criselda -- she goes by "Isel" -- is a veteran producer of a TV documentary show in her native Philippines named "I Witness."
The Humphrey Fellowships bring foreign journalists to the U.S. for 10 months of training and intensive study and observation of American life. Isel arrived in Arizona as Donald Trump was demanding that we build walls at the border and her curiosity about this anger and fear met Josh’s passion for documenting refugees. Here is their work.
Josh and Isel’s videos are given context with data they’ve gathered on the refugee experience in Arizona. The numbers define the obstacle course to citizenship they must navigate to make the transition from person on the run to citizen. Learning English, getting a job, paying for an education, obtaining safe housing, interacting with other foreign nationals and with Americans, sometimes with negative results -- this is Arizona Revealed from their perspective.
Helping them is a support network of religious and social service agencies populated by humanitarians who believe this is not a distant problem for the European Union. Instead, they see an opportunity to assist and a moral imperative to do so.
Finally, we hope you’ll take a moment and click through the slide show of portraits of these individuals. A former Iraqi soldier arrived in January with a new baby, wife and son. From Burma, a new homeowner who is a single mom making a living as a cook. Another Burmese, a young father, is thrilled that his children can get an education here. An Afghani woman, who when asked why she is here simply says “democracy and freedom.” These are the faces of another generation of new Americans who started somewhere else, made it here, and strive to contribute to the continuing growth of the United States and Arizona.
Please watch, read and experience Arizona Revealed, and let us know what you think or what ideas you have for future stories.