While Detroit has a long history of migration and now hosts thousands of refugees and immigrants, the growing community of African asylum-seekers remains largely unnoticed. There is a great number of Africans now resettling in Detroit through Freedom House, one of the only shelters in the country providing pro-bono housing, legal, and social services to those fleeing persecution and seeking asylum in the United States. The word spreads fast, and most people hear about the shelter through other Africans they meet when they first arrive in the country.
Unlike resettled refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan whose stories we often hear about in the media, asylum-seekers in the United States are not given financial support from the government when they arrive, and their legal status remains undecided for years. Between Home and Exile explores the ongoing impact of the asylum-seeking process on individuals—the echoes of forced migration and trauma, a future of newness and uncertainty.
Grace and Ornicia, who are cousins from the Republic of Congo, were targeted by the government and fled their country to come to Detroit, where they applied for asylum in 2016. Back home, the Congolese government systematically imprisons and tortures its own citizens, from members of opposition parties to student protestors, who they view as threatening to their power.
While Grace and Ornicia wait years for their case to be processed, they rent an apartment together, they have jobs and form strong relationships. They are rebuilding a life in limbo—a life in between their past in Congo and their potential future in Detroit. Neither here nor there, they are between familiarity and the unknown, their pain and their healing, home and exile.
They pray for the call to inform them that they’ve been scheduled for an asylum interview with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services in Chicago. But until then, life continues.