Graduation Year

2011

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

Anthropology

Major Professor

Elizabeth Bird

Abstract

The long, protracted civil war, spanning nearly fifty years, in the South American nation of Colombia has displaced almost four million civilians in as much time. Tens of thousands of refugees were resettled in Ecuador, Panama, Venezuela and other neighboring countries. Some, still threatened in their country of first asylum, and resettled to the United States (US) with their families, must learn to navigate the often complex systems of life and living in America. Resettlement programs that focus primarily on immediate needs such as employment and accommodations are aware of the growing need for more long&ndashterm assistance. However, while there is much research on how to improve refugee resettlement services generally, there is very limited research on the nature of services that might be needed long&ndashterm or the duration that they may be necessary, for asylum seekers specifically.

This ethnographic research examines in detail the long term needs of two Colombian asylum seekers who resettled with their families to a suburban neighborhood in a city in the southern part of the United States. A series of life history interviews, participant observation, ethnographic immersion and secondary research over the course of a one&ndashyear internship with an agency servicing survivors of political torture &mdash refugees, asylees and asylum seekers &mdash uncovered opportunities for bridging perceived gaps in service and highlighting ones that are critical to the long-term successful resettlement and transition of asylum seekers. Four dominant themes emerged from the research: (1) New Identities / Roles &mdash understanding new constructions of self and other; (2) Belonging &mdash coping with new identities, building trust and setting up roots; (3) Legitimacy &mdash power, representation of asylum seekers and its effects on access to services; and (4) Aspirations &mdash goals for the future.

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