In 2020, 82.4 million people were forced from their homes due to conflict, persecution, and violence. That’s more than ever before in human history – a record that was broken for the first time in 2016. It has been broken again every year since.
Despite such increasing numbers, only 1% of all refugees are actually resettled in the world’s 29 resettlement countries, according to the International Rescue Committee. In 2018, starting over in the United States became even harder: the Trump Administration cut refugee admissions by more than 85 percent. Last year, only 18,000 refugees were allowed to resettle within the country’s borders; 11,814 actually did so.
One of those 11,814 was Jean Claude Banyingela, a 21-year-old who was born and raised in Lusaka, Zambia. After his parents fled their native Democratic Republic of Congo, they applied for resettlement in the United States – a process that took more than 20 years to finalize. One day, we will leave this country, Jean Claude’s mother used to tell him. Though he doubted her words at times, they finally materialized.
In November of 2020, Banyingela, his parents, and his two sisters landed at San Jose International Airport. Today, they are one year into their resettlement journey.
Elissa Miolene has written for newspapers, magazines, online audiences and aid agencies in the United States, East Africa and South Asia. As a communications specialist, she has used storytelling to boost the visibility of large international organizations, small grassroots groups and large United Nations agencies, working at Save the Children, CARE International, Alive Medical Services and UNICEF, among others. As a journalist, she has investigated topics like marine life recovery in New England, family reunification systems for South Sudanese refugees, and child acrobats in Uganda’s largest slum. Prior to beginning her graduate degree at Stanford, Elissa was leading digital content and storytelling for the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children, a UNICEF-hosted fund that works with over 600 partners to combat child abuse across the world. Elissa holds a master’s degree in Politics and Policy and a bachelor’s degree in both Journalism and Global Studies, both of which were obtained at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.