“The Stars in Their Eyes” by Melody Del Rio

The ground I stand on is filled with blood and hopes for a better tomorrow. A promise made in the shape of stars but crossed out by reality in the form of red lines. People strive to be the best versions of themselves, to obtain the basic human rights fleeing from their countries in search of finding solidarity in another.

During my summer study abroad in Greece and Italy, I found that the refugee crisis was not just something that was happening in America but also in Europe.  UNHCR reported that Greece has taken 15,670 migrants arriving by sea and Italy has 2,144 so far in 2019. 

In Catania, Sicily we met with Sanusi Iadama, a refugee from Gambia, Africa. He has been living in Cara Mineo refugee camp for two years and at the end of the month, he is not sure where he will go.

“Sometimes I think to myself, ‘I don’t even know why I make it’ but it’s already happened and there is no going back,” Iadama said.

His journey has been difficult because he hasn’t been able to find a job and the allowance that the government has given him isn’t a livable amount. These refugees want to be able to work and support themselves. 

Tony Okoza, a refugee at Cara Minero from Nigeria, said, “In my country, I don’t want to beg somebody. I like to work with hard labor and I have my money.”

On Okoza’s first day at the camp, they offered him free food and he was not fond of it. He appreciated that people gave him food but he said he takes more pride in working for his necessities.

Refugees, like anyone else, want to live without violence or fear, they want to be able to provide for their family and they want to have basic human rights. Though their destination might not be America, there is a sense that they strive for the American dream. 

The American dream is a term that can be defined differently by anyone. Google’s definition is the ideal by which equality of opportunity is available to any American, allowing the highest aspirations and goals to be achieved.

“We have the dreams to come [to the United States]. Your country is good, very good for refugees,” a refugee in Athens named Roxana Aayan said.

I met Aayan while visiting Greece. She invited my classmates and me to her two-bedroom apartment where five of her family members were also living. 

The family traveled from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Africa to Athens, Greece. They took a train to Turkey then boarded a rubber boat. The smugglers promised them that they would take them to Italy in exchange for 2,000 euros but two weeks after they arrived on land they found out it was Greece. 

During my meeting with the family, they asked me where I was from. When I said “America” their eyes sparkled bright and a grin took over their faces

Aayan’s brother, Shkodran Brahimi, said,  “United States we love them. That’s our dream to reach the United States.”

To them, the seven letter word is the promise land filled with milk and honey. A land in which their dreams could come true without any trouble.

“We want to go there but it’s very hard. We have documents, we have passports but we don’t know how to get there,” Aayan said. “We know the United States is a big country. They have jobs, they have everything.”

Unlike Aayan’s family, the US borders are nearby for some and though the idea of coming to America might sound simple to others, the truth lies in the story of the ones crossing their neighbors’ fence for a better life. 

According to the Pew Research Center, Mexico was the top country of origin country in the US immigrant population in 2017 with 11.2 million immigrants. 

Forty years ago a little girl boarded a train with no idea where she was going. She remembers the crowded train as she sat on the lap of her uncle while her older sister sat in the aisle. The girl didn’t know what was to come but only that her parents packed their clothes and never went back to Mexico. The little girl was my mother, Leonor Viayra. 

At age 46 my mother still does not have citizenship. The worry that she can one day be deported back to Mexico can be concerning, especially because she is the only guardian of my 6-year old sister. 

While I worry about my mother’s status, another family member of mine is struggling with his father’s case. His father has lived in the US all his life but in the past year, he was deported. Unhappy with suicidal thoughts and living in a country he barely knows, struggling to find work. 

The refugee crisis is not just a European problem nor is it an American problem, it’s a humanity problem. Our responsibility is to unite over issues that are believed to be unfair or unethical. The problem is that our society is desensitized to by looking at refugees and immigrants as numbers rather than people who have the potential to contribute to society. 

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