Turning Tragedy Into Triumph: 16 Eye-Opening Refugee Quotes

“To be called a refugee is the opposite of an insult; it is a badge of strength, courage, and victory.”

— Tennessee Office for Refugees

Imagine living in a world ravaged by war.

The safety of home has been replaced by terror—everything familiar is turned upside down or completely destroyed.

You’ve become a prisoner in your own home.

You haven’t stepped outside your basement to see what’s left of your neighborhood because you’re afraid your family will be discovered and harmed — maybe even killed.

Your children can’t go to school. You can’t do simple tasks like going to the grocery or mowing your lawn. Worse, you can’t even go to work to provide for your family.

You’re left with two options: escape or die.

It’s difficult to imagine, isn’t it?

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), 25.9 million people were forced to make this choice in 2018.

That’s the largest number of refugees in history.

Once they escape the dangers of home, they spend months—even years—going through the vetting process required to stay in the place the UNHCR has recommended. (They don’t get to choose to go just anywhere.)

And, while they wait, there’s the challenge of integrating into a new culture, finding a way to support their family, learning a new language, overcoming loneliness, and enduring the skepticism of people around them.

Unfortunately, for many of us, there’s a fundamental misunderstanding of who refugees are and why they left home in the first place. We don’t know them or their circumstances, so we take at face value what we hear on the news and often, unfairly label them as unworthy outcasts who don’t deserve to be a part of our society.

While we can try to empathize with their experience — which is so far removed from our own — it’s impossible to really understand.

What we can do is remember that every refugee we encounter is a living, breathing human being with a unique story. We can take the time to get to know them, learn their stories, and share our own.

Refugees are some of the strongest, bravest people we can have the privilege of knowing.

Their stories are an inspiration and a testament to the amazing strength and resilience of the human spirit. There’s no better way to give you a glimpse into who they are than to share their perspectives in their own words.

Refugee Quotes That Put Things In Perspective

  1. “No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.” ― Warsan Shire, from “Home,” in Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth.
  2. “It’s not easy to start over in a new place,’ he said. ‘Exile is not for everyone. Someone has to stay behind, to receive the letters and greet family members when they come back.” ― Edwidge Danticat, in Brother, I’m Dying
  3. “We don’t have a vision for the future… Before, when we were in Syria, we thought about our future… how it would be, and how we wanted it to be for our children… I want to live today, and I want to live tomorrow… the day after tomorrow, we will think about it when it comes.” — Shireen, a Syrian refugee who now lives in an Iraqi refugee camp after escaping civil war in Syria. Shireen and her sister started a business, first by learning to knit. Now, they are able to offer goods to the refugees in their camp so that they don’t need to travel so far to get the things they need. (Find a few of Shireen’s knitted items in the Sisterhood Collection in the Preemptive Love Shop.)
  4. “I wish I could escape my mind, that I could be free of this world and everything I have seen in the last few years. And the children who have survived, what will become of them? How will they be able to live in this world?” ― Christy Lefteri, The Beekeeper of Aleppo
  5. “Refugees are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, with the same hopes and ambitions as us—except that a twist of fate has bound their lives to a global refugee crisis on an unprecedented scale.” — Khaled Hosseini
  6. “Refugees didn’t just escape a place. They had to escape a thousand memories until they’d put enough time and distance between them and their misery to wake to a better day.” — Nadia Hashimi
  7. “We ran and it was very hard; my wife carried our eight-month-old daughter, and I carried my other daughter. It was terrible; we saw so many dead bodies along the way that at one point my wife fainted and even now, my children are having nightmares and wake up crying.” ― Fawaz, an Iraqi refugee, in an interview with UNHCR
  8. “The last thing I remember of Syria, before we left, was when my mother was taking me from our place to our grandparents. The roads were full of dead corpses. I saw dead people with no heads or no hands or legs. I was so shocked I couldn’t stop crying…” — 7-year-old Alia, from Aleppo, Syria who fled with her family to Lebanon
  9. “But in our camp, his story was everyone’s story, a single tale of dispossession, of being stripped to the bones of one’s humanity, of being dumped like rubbish into refugee camps unfit for rats.” — from Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa
  10. “We lost our home, which means the familiarity of daily life. We lost our occupation, which means the confidence that we are of some use in this world. We lost our language, which means the naturalness of reactions, the simplicity of gestures, the unaffected expression of feelings. We left our relatives… and our best friends have been killed and that means the rupture of our private lives.” — Hannah Arendt, We Refugees

Regardless of what they’ve been through, the thing that inspires us most about the refugees we’ve had the honor of serving is their ability to turn devastation into something beautiful. To take what was meant to destroy and use it for good.

Quotes Directly From Refugees

  1. “Sometimes I forget I’m a refugee.” — Faris, founder of Kinsman Soap. Faris and his family are Yazidis who fled to Kurdistan from Sinjar, in northern Iraq, after ISIS took over. They barely escaped with their lives. Faris learned how to make soap, and singlehandedly supports his family of fourteen. This is what empowerment looks like.
  2. “All my life, I kept waiting for things to get better. For the bright promise of mañana. But a funny thing happened while I was waiting for the world to change… it didn’t. Because I didn’t change it.” ― Alan Gratz, Refugee
  3. “Tragedy makes women create things in their lives.” — Muna, who is using her gift of encouragement and an incredible knack for organizing to change the lives of women in Iraq. Muna came face to face with ISIS, stood her ground and fled her home with her husband and family. She wasted no time finding a way to use her talents in spite of the tragedy in her own life and is now helping women discover their talents and use them to become entrepreneurs.
  4. “Most of all, my hope is still to become a teacher and to achieve my dreams.” — Khader, a young man who was paralyzed after being struck by shrapnel from a mortar attack near his home in Mosul, Iraq. Long before that attack, Khader had given up the hope of ever realizing his dream when his family had to flee for their lives. They ended up in Mosul, where they thought they’d be safe… and soon it, too, became an ISIS stronghold.
  5. “When Syria is safe again, we will go back. Syria is our home. Even though our house is destroyed, we can rebuild… because we are all safe.” — Khadija, a woman whose family fled Syria during the civil war. Their home burned to the ground and they lost everything. They made it safely to Iraq, where they rebuilt in the refugee camp. Thanks to you, she was provided with a sewing machine and now earns money to support her family by selling the beautiful garments she makes. (Shop the Sisterhood Collection in our Shop.)
  6. “I’m now nearly 79. At 16 I took responsibility for Tibet and lost my freedom. At 24, I lost my country and became a refugee. I’ve met difficulties, but as the saying goes: ‘Wherever you’re happy, you can call home, and whoever is kind to you is like your parents.’ I’ve been happy and at home in the world at large. Living a meaningful life isn’t just a matter of money; it’s about dedicating your life to helping others.” — Dalai Lama
  7. Whether an individual is forced to flee because of war, or a devastating natural disaster, one thing remains true—“A good companion shortens the longest road.” (a Kurdish Proverb)

The life of a refugee, even one that’s part of a family, can be a terribly lonely road. We may not be able to carry the burden for every single one of them, or fix everything, but we can come alongside them, and love anyway.