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Powerful in flight: Cambodian and Karen refugee narratives of strength and resilience

Denise Clark Lewis, Savannah Spivey Young

Abstract

Traumatic experiences before and during flight and resettlement shape the lives and needs of refugee families. Yet, the agency of the refugees themselves —that is, their will and ability to make decisions regarding their present and future—is often ignored by caseworkers, policy-makers, and members of their resettlement communities. A better understanding of how refugees frame, respond to, and recover from stressors associated with their journeys will help illuminate their needs and personal agency. We focus on the power and resiliency refugees possess as they navigate the terrain of flight and settlement. We argue that when we, and others such as humanitarian service agencies and policy makers, clearly hear and respect refugees’ voices, we can begin to co-create responses to refugees’ needs in collaboration with the refugees who, themselves, exhibit resiliency and hold valuable everyday forms of wisdom surrounding what they need to live successfully in a host nation.

Keywords

refugees; Southeast Asian; resilience; family; resettlement

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