Stories From California

Refugee Kids - Cristian's Story

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In the summer of 2014 more than 68 000 kids from Central America came to the United States without a family member with them on the journey. They escaped gang violence and poverty and by now have all but diappeared from the headlines.

Finding out what happened to them, I learned about Casa Libre, a shelter and academy for homeless teenagers. In this converted gothic villa Cristian, 21 years from Guatemala, student at CalArts, told me his story.

I would have never guessed the ordeal this polite, funny and smart young man had to go through to get to Los Angeles. And whenever I start complaining about bad food, tight seats and long hours on a plane from Germany to California I will probably think of him. And be a little more thankful for what I have.

Cristian's Mom died when he was two years old. His father never cared about him. His grandmother turned into an alcoholic and became very abusive. So an aunt who lived in California hired a smuggler to bring the 13 year old to Los Angeles.

His trip included standing or sitting cramped in tiny compartments of trucks, vans and buses; terrifying encounters with police and smugglers along random roads in Mexico; no food, water or shelter for days; endless walks, hours of standing up in hiding spots, sleeping on concrete floors or under the desert sun. Fellow-travellers stole his only can of tuna and water bottle, coyotes did not show up at meeting spots and when Cristian finally arrived he thought his foot might be falling off because somebody had been sitting on it for so long he could not feel it anymore even days after the end of the trip.

People like the Casa Libre team help those forgotten young refugees. Their fate lies mostly in the hands of overworked lawyers and immigration judges while politicians have just postponed talking about immigration reform. The issue is not going to go away, as Casa Libre director Federico Bustamante sais: "As long as kids walk by dead bodies on their way to school and as long as their relatives disappear and nobody cares they will continue to come."

Deutschlandradio: Vergessene Fl├╝chtlinge, Forgotten Refugees

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