I met Sara in Madrid, Spain when we were placed at the same school as English Teaching Assistants. As the proud daughter of Iranian immigrants, she has a deep understanding of the conflicts and injustices that people are currently facing as they flee their homelands in search of a normal life for their families. Sara has an incredible heart and is currently raising funds to conduct group research on migration in Costa Rica, a low-profile conflict that desperately needs help.
Sara's Personal Connections to the Current Global Migration Crisis
“The rapidly changing immigration policies in regards to the US has been excruciating. South American friends are worried they'll be sent home, without having done anything wrong. In them, I see an insecurity that they are being seen as illegal people, unwanted in this country that they are always praising to me - a country they fought to get to and stay in, with opportunities that are making their lives and their families lives better.
And as an Iranian-American, the recent travel ban against Iran felt like a personal blow. With no history of Iranian terrorist attacks on American soil, it made little sense and it hurts to feel like you're being stereotyped. I started thinking about my uncle's upcoming trip here for the Persian New Year - will he be okay? When my parents take their annual trip to Iran this year, will they be given a hard time? My cousin, an Iranian citizen, just got married to an Iranian-American and the order stirred up worry. Family members of Persian friends were traveling from Iran to Dulles the day of the order, and what hurt them the most was the humiliation they would face.
None of these people have done anything wrong - on the contrary, they are amazing, hard-working, compassionate people. The political climate surrounding immigration today has somehow contorted the word "immigrant". I won't forget how someone recently told me that they didn't think of my parents as immigrants, because it doesn't seem like a nice word. My parents are immigrants. And they are Iranian immigrants. And I am extremely proud of them for that reason, and for a million more.”
Why Costa Rica?
A lot of refugees and migrants from all over South and Central America are traveling to Costa Rica for reasons like economic opportunities or fleeing gang violence, and many are trying to pass through the country to get to the United States. Costa Rica has always been a migration destination due to its relative safety in the region and its welcoming nature. However, the current situation is quite complicated: a recent influx of migrants and refugees has caused Nicaragua to close its southern border, effectively trapping migrants in Costa Rica.
Current Costa Rican immigration policies only allow the detention of irregular migrants for 30 days, after which the migrants have to be released or deported to their home countries. However, the government cannot legally deport them without knowing whether they will face human rights abuses if they return, and this is an issue since it's been difficult to discern where many have actually come from.
Many countries in Central America continue to suffer intense security crises, and if the number of migrants grows beyond Costa Rica’s capacity, they could threaten the stability of one of the most stable countries in Central America, as well as threaten the well-being of the migrants themselves and the affected local populations.
What will Sara and her research partners do in Costa Rica?
Sara and her group members Cayla Vega, Kelly McKinnon and Stephanie Presch hope to take a closer look at the issues involved in Costa Rica and offer comprehensive policy recommendations that would alleviate them. While there are many different refugee crises at the moment, Sara and her research partners decided to focus their project on what's happening in Costa Rica because they feel that Latin America is an often under-researched and overlooked region, and the migration challenge there right now needs some attention.
On the ground in Costa Rica, they aim to interview some NGOs that have already begun work there, like UNHCR and IOM, as well as government officials and the Migration Agency there (DGME). With their contacts there, they hope to conduct interviews with refugees and migrants themselves, getting their perspective on the situation they are facing. It would be difficult to conduct these focus groups and interviews from Washington D.C., and they feel being able to witness first-hand the situation on the ground is important in pulling a recommendation paper together.
How can people help?
People can help by sharing news about what's happening in Costa Rica, donating to the organizations that have put in work there like the UNHCR and IOM, and by sharing and donating to the group’s GoFundMe link. They want to make sure they are fully in tune with all of the moving pieces going on in-country, as well as honoring the perspectives and thoughts of the migrants and refugees that these policies are affecting the most. “The best way to do this is to get to Costa Rica and talk to them! Everyone can help us get there.”
Inspiring people i know
What inspires you everyday?
My friends and family inspire me daily, as cliché as that may be. I feel extremely lucky to be surrounded by such intelligent, unique, kind, fun people and everyone in my life makes me want to aim higher. Everyone has their own personalities and own interests and it's inspiring to see people I love make something extraordinary out of that. From musicians in Spain, to the travel blogger in Australia, to the comedy writer in LA, to the engineer in Paris and the doctors in NJ, Austria and Iran, and every single person in between making the world better because of the light they bring into it, I am inspired every day.
What are your goals for 2017?
My goal for 2017 is to get involved. There is a lot of negativity that is being cranked out and emboldened by the current US regime, but in response there has also been a lot of resistance and therefore more community, positivity, and political engagement. It's easy to get overwhelmed and want to hide under a rock until it's all over, but if we all did that all the time, it would never be over! Taking care of ourselves is essential, but I think there's a balance to facing reality while still practicing self-care that this year/these next few years will teach us.
To support Sara and her research partners Cayla Vega, Kelly McKinnon and Stephanie Presch, please donate below! Let’s get these passionate and compassionate women down to Costa Rica to help others in need.
Click here to support Sara! GoFundMe
is an American educator, creator and wellness influencer who has been living the abroad life since 2009! She is bird obsessed, always a travel jinx and pays the bills by teaching English. Learn how to get abroad and live your best life once you're there!