The Refugee Experience Series

The Refugee Experience Series (TRES) is a grassroots community based organization working to humanize displaced people through fun, educational, and social events. Our social movement creates enjoyable avenues of participation to connect like-minded individuals to get involved in small and large ways to recognize and help refugees. Join our movement, help by simply increasing your knowledge of refugee issues. 

TRES Annual Book Club

Safe Haven?: A History of Refugees in America
David W. Haines

Safe Haven book cover
The notion of America as land of refuge is vital to American civic consciousness yet over the past seventy years the country has had a complicated and fickle relationship with its refugee populations. Attitudes and policies toward refugees from the government, voluntary organizations, and the general public have ranged from acceptance to rejection; from well-wrought program efforts to botched ones.

Drawing on a wide range of contemporary and historical material, and based on the author’s nearly three-decade experience in refugee research and policy, Safe Haven? provides an integrated portrait of this crucial component of American immigration—and of American engagement with the world. Covering nearly a century of immigration history, Haines shows how refugees, their supporters and detractors continue to struggle with national identities and the effect this struggle has had on American institutions and attitudes.

More details on the 2011-2012 Winter Book Club coming soon! Sign up for the TRES e-list for event details. Purchase your copy of Safe Haven? in the meantime. $27.50 and FREE shipping on All royalties from this book are donated to organizations serving refugees.

An Iraqi Experience: Heavy Metal in Baghdad

Documentary and Community Discussion

hosted by The Refugee Experience Series &  Documentaries Without Boarders

Sunday, June 26, 2011 from 4-7pm

Dorchester Towers 2005 Columbia Pike, Arlington, VA  22204

Free event. Please RSVP as space is limited and bring a snack/beverage to share. Dress comfortably. Feel free to invite friends, this will be a cozy community event.

RSVP: for your confirmation and the building entrance code.

We’ll learn about the Iraqi refugee experience through the lens of Heavy Metal in Baghdad, a feature film documentary that follows the Iraqi heavy metal band Acrassicauda from the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 to the present day. Playing heavy metal in a Muslim country has always been a difficult (if not impossible) proposition but after Saddam’s regime was toppled, there was a brief moment for the band in which real freedom seemed possible. That hope was quickly dashed as their country fell into a bloody insurgency. From 2003-2006, Iraq disintegrated around them while Acrassicauda struggled to stay together and stay alive, always refusing to let their heavy metal dreams die. Their story echoes the unspoken hopes of an entire generation of young Iraqis.

Acrassicauda Bio

Born out of a basement rehearsal space in Baghdad, Acrassicauda (Latin for “Black Scorpion”) is Iraq’s only heavy metal band. Tutored by music instructor and guitar virtuoso Saad “Yngwie” Say and inspired by western bands like Metallica, Slayer and Slipknot, they began writing and playing metal in 2001. They soon learned that their dream of performing live in Iraq was going to be no easy task.

Original members Firas (bass), Tony (lead guitar), Marwan (drums), Faisal (rhythm guitar) and Waleed (lead vocals) were only able to play 3 shows before the war started in 2003. Soon after, Waleed retired from the band and fled the country, leaving Faisal to fill the void of lead singer. Due to increased security precautions throughout Iraq, it became difficult to practice or even get through a show without serious problems. As the situation worsened in Baghdad they began receiving death threats from insurgent groups and religious fundamentalists accusing them of Satan-worship. Eventually, it proved impossible to find any venue that was safe to perform in.

Thanks to generous donations made on their behalf, the band was able to reside in Turkey after living a year as refugees in Damascus, Syria. In their early seven years as a band they have managed to play only 6 concerts in Baghdad, 2 in Syria and one in Turkey. The war has all but destroyed their dream to live in peace, grow their hair long, bang their heads and play metal as loud as they want. Life in Turkey proved extremely difficult for them. Acrassicauda is literally a band on the run.

“Both a stirring testament to the plight of cultural expression in Baghdad and a striking report on the refugee scene in Syria, this rock-doc like no other electrifies its genre and redefines headbanging as an act of hard-core courage.” New York Times

“More than just another Iraq-doc, "Heavy Metal" is a surprisingly up-close look at the toll of the war on young people, and how they still have dreams and still want to jam, party and get down. If "Once" was about the romance of creativity, "Heavy Metal in Baghdad" is about the total, unrelenting obsession. They have no choice. They must rock.” Los Angeles Times

"One Band Moves Its Metal Out of Iraq," New York Times Article

TRES Annual Book Club


Refugee Sandwich Lunch Discussion with Peter Showler

(with live streaming pilot) 



Stay tuned, more details to come! 




$10 Lunch buffet

(soup, sandwich, snack, and beverage)

Venue: Dorchester Towers, 2005 Columbia Pike, Arlington, VA 22204


RSVP for the lunch or the livestream to


Buy your copy on today! There will be a book signing at the lunch with Peter Showler.


This event is open to everyone, even if you haven’t read the book yet.  


***RSVP for the lunch*** if you are in the Washington, DC area by February 17 for food planning purposes and to receive the building code for entrance. Please invite a friend and let us know if you have food allergies.

***RSVP to join us via live streaming*** and we will email participatory information. Email TRES your questions for Peter by February 17 or drop a note on the Refugee Sandwich Facebook discussion board.


Curl up with Refugee Sandwich this winter.
Thirteen stories tell more about Canada's refugee system than any academic treatise.  
“Even as this book exposes the human and institutional frailties of Canada’s much vaunted refugee determination system, it paints often surprising portraits of quiet heroism on the part of the refugees, their advocates, and the officials charged with assessing the fit between law and often impossibly complex realities."
– James C. Hathaway, professor and director, Refugee and Asylum Law, University of Michigan

Although more than thirty thousand refugee claims are decided in Canada every year, the personal stories behind them are never heard by the public. Peter Showler exposes the dilemmas and choices faced by participants in the Canadian refugee determination process in this collection of thirteen vignettes that focus on the roles played by the participants - legal counsel, federal court judges, interpreters, hearing officers, and, of course, claimants and board members. 

Peter uses satire in Refugee Sandwich to expose the prejudices, myopia, ignorance, provincialism, and lack of sensitivity that mark the decisions of officials. Against a historical analysis of human rights abuses from a dozen countries, the author offers a sympathetic rendering of the predicament of the refugee claimant as well as a critical look at some of the more common devices and abusive strategies employed by fraudulent claimants.

For more details, click here.  




Peter Showler is the director of The Refugee Forum with the Human Rights Research and Education Centre at the University of Ottawa.

Peter is the former chairperson of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (1999-2002). Previously he sat as a member of the Immigration and Refugee Board (1994-99) and practiced immigration and refugee law (1986-94) while serving as the Co-Director of Ottawa-Carleton Community Legal Services, a community legal clinic providing free legal services in traditional poverty law areas.


He teaches Immigration and Refugee Law and Advanced Refugee law at the University of Ottawa Law School. He is also the author of Refugee Sandwich: Stories of Exile and Asylum, a work of both fiction and non-fiction that offers direct and intimate insights into the refugee claim process in Canada. Peter is the former Gordon Henderson Chair in Human Rights and is currently a Senior Associate of the Human Rights Research and Education Centre.  


TRES Outing: SLRAS Concert 


The Refugee Experience Series organized our first concert night!  


TRES supported the Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars!

On September 10, 2010, TRES enjoyed a special deal from the
band managers and concert promoter. About 30 TRES old and new 
members danced and networked the night away with Siera Leone
embassy staff while supporting this amazing band! 
Photos speak louder than words on the great time we had! 
We hope you will be able to join us next time!
* This concert is presented by the patronage of Sierra Leone's ambassador to the USA, in association with Zanzibar, Nosolina, and Kololo Entertainment group.



Seeking Refuge Dinner Discussion  

On January 28, 2010, The Refugee Experience Series hosted a dinner discussion highlighting Central American refugees based on the TRES Book Club's feature book, Seeking Refuge: Central American Migration to Mexico, the United States, and Canda. Author Cristina Maria Garcia joined our group for dinner and to share insight on why she wrote Seeking Refuge.   
Note from Seeking Refuge aurthor, Maria Cristina Garcia:
"The organizers and participants of TRES are a very special group of people, committed to working with refugees and/or learning as much as they can about immigration issues. They asked  thoughtful and probing questions, and their views reflected a variety of political perspectives and life experiences. I learned a great deal from them. 
"It wasn't all serious, however. The conversation around the dinner table was lively and fun. I never regretted driving seven hours through wintry weather to join them for dinner. I'd happily do it again. Thanks for the invitation!"   
Seeking Refuge:
Central American migration to Mexico, the United States, and Canda
The political upheaval in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala had a devastating human toll at the end of the twentieth century. A quarter of a million people died during the period 1974-1996. Many of those who survived the wars chose temporary refuge in neighboring countries such as Honduras and Costa Rica. Others traveled far north, to Mexico, the United States, and Canada in search of safety. Over two million of those who fled Central America during this period settled in these three countries.

In this incisive book, María Cristina García tells the story of that migration and how domestic and foreign policy interests shaped the asylum policies of Mexico, the United States, and Canada. She describes the experiences of the individuals and non-governmental organizations—primarily church groups and human rights organizations—that responded to the refugee crisis, and worked within and across borders to shape refugee policy. These transnational advocacy networks collected testimonies, documented the abuses of states, re-framed national debates about immigration, pressed for changes in policy, and ultimately
provided a voice for the displaced.

García concludes by addressing the legacies of the Central American refugee crisis, especially recent
attempts to coordinate a regional response to the unique problems presented by immigrants and refugees—and the challenges of coordinating such a regional response in the post-9/11 era.
Maria Cristina Garcia was born in Havana, Cuba and raised largely in the United States and Puerto Rico. She received her A.B. from Georgetown University and her M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin. She is now Professor of History at Cornell University, where she teaches courses on immigration history, refugees, and Latino Studies. She is the author of Havana USA: Cuban Exiles and Cuban Americans in South Florida and Seeking Refuge: Central American migration to Mexico, the United States, and Canada, as well as numerous articles on Latinos in the United States. She is currently writing a book on refugee policy in the U.S. since the end of the Cold war.   

Somali Crisis Dinner Discussion 


November  4, 2009
New and old TRES friends learned about and discussed Somalia’s conflict, the resulting Somali refugee crisis, and how Refugees International is addressing this emergency situation with Patrick Duplat, Refugees International Advocate. Patrick shared his on-the-ground experiences in Somalia.
Somalia has experienced almost constant conflict since the collapse of its central government in 1991. According to Refugees International, there are approximately 1.3 million internally displaced people in Somalia and over 400,000 Somali refugees in neighboring countries. While the situation has continuously deteriorated in the past two years, the last months have seen worsening indicators, including high numbers of refugees going to Kenya and Yemen.


Patrick Duplat joined Refugees International (RI) in September 2007. He conducts research on the displacement crises in Somalia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Patrick previously worked with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) in Indonesia during the 2004 tsunami, in Somalia’s Bakool region and in Chad, where he worked with refugees from Darfur. Prior to working with MSF, he spent three years in China working in investor relations. Patrick has a Bachelor’s degree from McGill University in Commerce and a Master’s degree in Global Politics from the London School of Economics. Patrick is a dual French and Canadian citizen.

Refugees International advocates for lifesaving assistance and protection for displaced people and promotes solutions to displacement crises.

Refugees International does not accept government or United Nations funding to maintain their independence, and depend entirely on private contributions. TRES would like to support the important work of RI with a small donations box at the event if you would like to contribute. Any amount will be appreciated on November 4th and will directly go to Refugees International’s Somalia program. 

Please also consider donating directly via the RI website or through your agency's Combined Federal Campaign (CFC). The Refugees International’s CFC code is 10664.

Former Soviet Union Refugee Dinner Discussion

August 20, 2009

TRES and HIAS Young Leaders DC hosted an enlightening evening with guest speakers, Mariya Baskind  and Yasha Moz. We learned about former Soviet Union refugees with new and old friends. We enjoyed a light but hearty Scandinavian and Slavic cuisine as we learned about the religious persecution of this less known group on August 20 at Domku Café. Event photos coming in December 2009. 

World Refugee Fundraiser Celebration
June 27, 2009
TRES, the International Rescue Committee, and USA for UNHCR honored global refugees on June 27, 2009 and raised over $1,000.  Event proceeds benefited the IRC and UNHCR

The TRES World Refugee Fundraiser Celebration featured the Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars documentary, UNHCR and IRC speakers, Burmese and Togolese cultural performances, a delicious taste of the world buffet, and world music by FunkDC's DJ Neil Payne and DJ Busca.

Click here for event details. 


 Sarah's Blog


The Refugee Experience Series is a grassroots organization made up of dedicated volunteers passionate about raising awareness on the reality of refugees around the world and in the United States. 


We have been hosting informative and heart-warming events since the fall of 2007. Along the way, we've been joined by various interesting individuals who have helped prepare and put on our community events. Sarah Maxwell is one of these dedicated individuals. Read her blog, I Heart Idealist, on why she is an Idealist at heart and how she became involved with The Refugee Experiences Series in 2008. 


 Iraqi Refugees Dinner Discussion



                                                                Event photos can be seen on the Events page. 
On March 13, 2009, The Refugee Experience Series hosted an Iraqi Refugees Dinner Discussion at Cafe Chopsticks with honored guest speakers:
  • Zahra Alkabi, Director of Save Refugees and former Iraqi refugee,
  • Merrill Smith, Director of International Planning and Analysis, U.S. Committee for Refugees & Immigrants, and
  • Michael Springmann, a District of Columbia immigration attorney. 
"Five years into the US military intervention in Iraq, the country is dealing with one of the largest humanitarian and displacement crises in the world. Millions of Iraqis have fled their homes – either for safer locations within Iraq, or to other countries in the region – and are living in increasingly desperate circumstances. Failure to address the needs of Iraqis will have dramatic impacts on security inside Iraq...approximately 1.5 million Iraqi refugees [are] living in Syria, Jordan and other neighbors of Iraq, as well as the 2.7 million internally displaced persons within Iraq. Most are unable to access their food rations and are often unemployed; they live in squalid conditions, have run out of resources and find it extremely difficult to access essential services." - Refugees International
We were honored to hear directly from Zahra Alkabi, who spoke about the situation of Iraqi women and children refugees in Jordan as well as the difficult situations of Iraqi refugees here in the U.S. and specifically in her home city of Portland, Oregon. 
Merrill Smith gave us a fascinating background into the world of refugee warehousing and its tangent to the Iraqi refugee situation in the Middle East.  He also co-authored the World Policy Journal article, Iraq's Refugee Disaster with Ben Sanders.
Michael Springmann recounted the Iraqi refugee struggles from his powerful Global Research article, The Refugee Crisis: The Pain and Suffering of the Iraqi People.
Learn about and help Iraqi refugees:
You can learn about the Iraqi refugee crisis in the above articles and join TRES and USCRI to ask President Obama to not forget Iraqi refugees.
Would you like to write to Iraqi refugees in Jordan?  Contact Zahra to participate in the Apology and Forgiveness Campaign and tell her you heard it from The Refugee Experience Series.  She will be delighted to hear from you and so will the Iraqi refugees in Jordan.


2008 Conference on Refugee Warehousing

The University of Pittsburgh hosted the 2008 Conference on Refugee Warehousing from October 10 to 12, 2008. The Refugee Experience Series' Vivian Nguyen attended the conference and met with inspirational leaders who addressed the meaning of refugee warehousing and recommended next steps.


The situation of refugees stuck in 'temporary' shelters with the denial of basic human rights is unacceptable. However, finding alternatives to the situation requires consideration of complex issues. The 2008 Conference on Refugee Warehousing offered a forum to consider the issues and strengthen the movement against refugee warehousing. Learn more at

Read articles by the conference speakers: 


Warehousing Refugees: A Denial of Rights, a Waste of Humanity

by Merril Smith, U.S. Committee for Refugee and Immigrants Editor


Refugee Warehousing Vis-à-vis Refugee Rights

by Judy Wakahiu, Executive Director, Refugee Consortium of Kenya





Watch an interview with Dr. Barbara Harrell-Bond, world-renowned expert on refugee situations, speaking about the inhumanity of human warehousing with the U.S. Committee for Refugee and Immigrants (USCRI) here.


Join the USCRI in a campaign to end refugee warehousing.  You can make a difference, click here.


Site Last Updated:

October 18, 2011


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"I wanted to thank you for the Sudanese Experience last March [2008]. I will be interning with the ILO in Bangkok working on child labour rights and education. Rather than spend my last two months (before returning to DC to finish my Masters) traveling, I have decided to volunteer in one of the UN refugee camps along the Thai Burmese border. I too was inspired by the presentation. I wanted to thank you for dedication your time, effort and hard workfor making The Refugee Experience Series possible  and for inspiring people like myself." -Alicia Fairfield

  Did You Know... 

A refugee is a person who is outside of any country in which he or she habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to return to that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership of particular social group, or political opinion.
Internally displaced people (IDPs) are people who fled for the same reasons as refugees, but remain inside their own country and are therefore still subject to its laws, rather than international refugee law.  

An asylee is a person who travels to another country, applies and is granted “asylum” status by that country’s government, which allows him or her to remain in the country, because he or she is unable or unwilling to return to his or her country due to persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution.