The mat outside the front door of President Donald Trump’s childhood home displayed a new message over the weekend: Refugees Welcome.
It was an obvious dig at a President who has taken action to block some refugees from coming into the United States.
But the charity Oxfam was looking to send a clear message when it rented the 1940s Tudor-style house in Queens, New York, where Trump lived until the age of four. The home has previously been listed on Airbnb.
“We need to do as much as we can to support refugees here and abroad,” said Isra Chaker, campaigns adviser and refugee campaign lead at Oxfam America. “Especially in the United States. We’re not doing enough and we can do so much more.”
Oxfam hosted refugees from Syria, Somalia and Vietnam at the house to share their experiences of what it was like to flee their countries and build a new life in the United States.
Uyen Nguyen fled Vietnam when she was 10 years old. She lost her mother, her baby sister and younger brother on the journey over. She recalls crying almost every day in the refugee camp, still dealing with the shock of losing most of her family and believing that her mother might somehow come back from the dead.
Nguyen and her older brother were the only people in her immediate family who made it to the US, where they were taken in by an uncle in the southern California town of La Quinta. From there, she says, life finally got better. Her classmates and teachers were warm and welcoming, and slowly, the US finally began to feel like home.
When Nguyen came across a bed as she wandered through Trump’s childhood home, she imagined a young Donald Trump sitting there.
“The image of him sitting on that bed really brought back to me the basic commonality among humanity, in that we all just want a roof over our head,” Nyugen says. “It really just reminded me that we all start in the same place.”
Trump’s policies on refugees
Just across the river from his childhood home, Trump touted his “America First” policy Tuesday at the UN General Assembly to an audience of world leaders and diplomats. Oxfam says its stunt is meant to serve as a reminder for Trump and world leaders to do more to address the refugee crisis. Last year, the UN’s refugee agency reported that the number of displaced people was at its highest ever – reaching nearly 66 million.
But more specifically, Oxfam says it is hoping to reach leaders here in the US.
“Right now is a really unique time where all three branches of the US government are making critical decisions on refugees,” Chaker says.
Among those decisions is the Trump administration’s consideration of a plan to cut the number of refugees it allows into the country to below 50,000. In July, the Trump administration announced it had reached its self-imposed quota on refugee admissions for the year and would dramatically reduce admissions going forward.
Also at stake is the Supreme Court’s decision on Trump’s travel ban. The President’s January executive order was halted as challenges to the ban made their way through the courts, but a June Supreme Court decision allowed portions of the travel ban to go into effect.
Administration officials have said they’re examining the refugee resettlement process in the interest of national security.
Refugee organizations, including Oxfam, have slammed the travel ban as a cruel and arbitrary move that targets some of the world’s most vulnerable people.
Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration could continue to bar most refugees. But the legal battle is far from over. The Supreme Court is expected to take up the travel ban case next month.
Until then, Nguyen says she hopes Trump and the rest of the world don’t take for granted the privilege of having a home to grow up in.
“When people don’t have a home over their heads, when they don’t have the capability to provide, that’s what drives them to leave. It doesn’t cost that much to provide someone that basic level of human survival.”