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From Refugee to Aid Worker: Eskinder Negash's Lifelong Journey

Julien Harneis
Kibumba, a refugee camp in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, close to the border with Rwanda.

Immigration will likely be a major issue for debate during the general election campaign this fall, with one presumptive nominee running on limiting Muslim immigration and constructing a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. And while we continue our internal dialogue about the issue here in the United States, the refugee crisis in Europe and in the Middle East is getting worse. Hundreds of thousands of people are still in need of shelter.

Outside of the spotlight, organizations continue to work to resettle these refugees in the United States, in places like Wisconsin. EskinderNegash works for one of those organizations. He’s Senior Vice President for Global Engagement at the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. He was also a refugee. 

"Once you are a refugee there is a certain feeling you always have, even though you're transformed to something else. You're working, you have your own family, you're in a different country, you have acquired citizenship. You know, that journey for every refugee is like something tattooed in your heart," says Negash. 

He first started his work with refugees when he was first displaced. As a teenager, Negash traveled alone from Ethiopia to Sudan where he resettled and found a job working to help refugees find new homes and a new lease on life.

It's been almost 40 years since his journey began. Still, Negash finds he's continually learning on the job and finds his work very rewarding.  "I believe the work I have done for a long period of time, being exposed to different cultures and different people, I believe that I became a better human being," he says.

Not only has his work been personally rewarding, it's also helped thousands of people find new home. While the current political climate might seem hostile to immigrants, Negash is confident that refugees will continue to be welcomed by the U.S.

"I happen to believe that the history of the United States is also a history of refugees and immigrants. Yes, from time to time, people question the policies," he says. "But at the end of the day you'll find out that they know their own history and the welcoming of refugees has been always part of the traditions of this country." 

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