“Refuge Lansing:” Humanizing Resettled Refugees in Central Michigan Community | MSUToday

After relocating to Lansing from the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo 10 years ago, Otis Ebulela said he finally felt safe.

“When I don’t see any problem,” Ebulela said, “I don’t worry about war and people coming and killing someone for no reason.”

The stories of refugees like Ebulela — who has worked at a Meijer grocery store since arriving in mid-Michigan — were the focus of the “Refuge Lansing” exhibit held at Michigan State University this fall.

The exhibit was presented through a partnership with James Madison College; the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures, or WRAC; the CAL Citizen Scholars program; the English Language Center; and the MSU library.

Through storytelling, the partnership with the “Refuge Lansing” project aims to “invite dialogue about perceptions and understanding of the origins, struggles, triumphs and contributions of those who join our communities from elsewhere”, as stated on the WRAC website.

Erika Brown-Binion, executive director of the Lansing Refugee Development Center, described the exhibit as a way to help get to know the refugees as human beings who are now part of the fabric of the Lansing community.

“They are mothers, fathers, teachers, business owners, homeowners and students…these are people with hopes and dreams, just like you and me,” Brown said. Binion.

There are about 400 to 700 refugees resettled in the Lansing community each year, she said.

Brown-Binion describes the refugees she works closely with as “people who are truly invested in our community.”

“The image of what a refugee is can be distorted because of what we see in the media or in stories,” she said. “‘Refugee’ has sometimes become a dirty word.”

The storytelling exhibit features intimate conversations with resettled refugees and applies a human perspective to the global refugee crisis.

Ruelaine Stokes, a writer for the project and a former ESL professor at MSU and Lansing Community College, describes storytelling as “intrinsically fascinating and natural to human beings.”

“It’s a way of learning about the world,” she says. “It is easier to learn more about refugees by talking to a refugee or learning a person’s story rather than reading a lot of abstract facts about refugees. You see it in a different dimension when you can see yourself in their place.

Murtadha Abdul, also on the project, fled Iraq for Turkey in 2008 and was resettled in America two years later.

“Any day I didn’t fear being shot was good,” Abdul said, reflecting on his life in Iraq. “You could barely walk down the street without getting shot.”

“These stories are tragically very common,” Stokes said. “We were trying to create an exhibit that shows more than the lives of refugees, to show people a bigger picture – to give a more realistic and honest picture of who refugees are.”

Less than 1% of refugees worldwide have the opportunity to be resettled. According to Binion, resettled refugees have no influence over where they are resettled, leaving them in a foreign and unfamiliar region where they only receive government assistance for several months.

The MSU and Lansing community offer a myriad of support systems for resettled refugees to help them integrate successfully into the community.

Find more information about the “Refuge Lansing” project here and how to get involved with the Lansing Refugee Development Center here.