When Oxfam learned that President Trump’s childhood home in Queens was available to rent on Airbnb, the humanitarian organization saw an opportunity: They’d rent out the house, which is filled with Trump portraits and framed quotes on the walls, and invite refugees to come inside and tell their stories.
“It’s an interesting time–the three branches of government are making decisions right now for refugees,” says Shannon Scribner, the acting director for humanitarian programs and policy for Oxfam America.
In a UN address on September 19, Trump is expected to announce how many refugees the U.S. will accept this year, a year after world leaders met in New York and pledged to do more to support refugees. Congress will make decisions on funding for refugees, both for those who are resettled in the U.S. and for humanitarian support abroad. And the Supreme Court will hear arguments about Trump’s travel ban–which blocks many refugees from six Muslim-majority countries–on October 10.
Four refugees visited the house where Trump lived until he was four, and shared stories with reporters about their journeys. Uyen Nguyen fled Vietnam when she was 10 years old; her mother, brother, and little sister died on the boat journey, but she and another brother eventually made it to California. Eiman Ali’s family fled war in Somalia and arrived in the U.S. when she was three.
The refugees brought personal objects with them to temporarily place in the house–toys in the room that was likely Trump’s bedroom, their photos on a desk, and their coffee cups on a table–to make the point that they once had homes that they were forced to leave.
“All of these refugees also had a childhood home that they had to flee from,” says Scribner. “That’s all they want for their children, for them to have a safe place.”
While the organization doesn’t expect Trump to necessarily respond, it hopes that Congress will. Congress is supposed to have a role in deciding how many refugees the U.S. accepts, and also makes decisions on funding for helping refugees find work after they are resettled. Oxfam also hopes to send a message about how much more the U.S. can do–both in its own policy and in pressing the international community to do more to honor its own commitments, whether in Europe or Africa or elsewhere. Since pledges made a year ago, “we’ve made very little progress,” Scribner says. (The Airbnb listing has been taken down, as well).
As the refugees visited the house, they looked at Trump quotes on the walls. “I was struck by one of the quotes in particular: It was talking about how persistence is the key to success, or something along those lines,” says Scribner. “And then as I listened to the stories of these refugees I was thinking, are you kidding me? Persistence and perseverance? They are the epitome of that.”