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APRIL 2016




isha arrived at Kennedy Airport on

a rainy afternoon in November 2009

looking more than a little apprehen-

sive as she clutched her two small

children and a number of mis-

matched bags holding their personal

belongings. Four years earlier, she

had fled her village in Rwanda and

ended up in a refugee camp in the

Democratic Republic of the Congo run by the United Nations

High Commissioner for Refugees. There she awaited resettle-

ment in a third country.

She filled out reams of application forms, provided bio-

graphical data, and sat for interviews with representatives of the

Resettlement Support Center and numerous security officials,

followed by medical exams. When she was finally told that the

United States had accepted her application, it was like a dream

come true. But it was not until she had a departure date, and

started attending cultural orientation classes, that the reality

sank in: she was actually going to America!

Aisha was suddenly beset with doubts. She didn’t know a

soul in America; how would she survive? Maybe she should just

stay in the camp, she thought. But with everyone congratulat-

ing her and telling her how lucky she was, she put on a brave

face and reminded herself of the violent events she had lived

through, and the anguish of the years since leaving Rwanda

behind. Right now her most pressing concern was hiding from

her children her fear of getting on an airplane for the first time

in her life.

She was reassured when she was greeted in New York City

by a representative of Church World Services, who assisted her

family in transiting the airport and boarding another plane to

Minneapolis. There, the local CWS sponsor escorted them to

a two-bedroom apartment. It was a bitterly cold, snowy day in

December; they had never seen snow before.

Then things began to happen at a bewildering pace. The

sponsor explained how the stove, heating system and smoke

alarm worked, and took Aisha and her children to a church

basement so they could pick out warm clothes. Other CWS staff

explained U.S. currency, showed her around the neighborhood,

and pointed out where and how to shop, and how to take the

Carol Colloton, a State Department Foreign Service officer

from 1976 to 2002, served as deputy chief of mission in

Mauritania and as the first regional refugee coordinator

for Central Africa following the 1994 Rwandan genocide,

among many other assignments. After retiring from the Service, she

worked for several years with State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and

Migration on refugee resettlement, and continues to do other work as a

When Actually Employed annuitant.

How Refugee

Resettlement in the

United States


Historically, the United States has permanently resettled more

refugees than all other countries combined. Here’s what’s involved.