Patrick Giantonio, Vermont Refugee Assistance director, Michelle Jenness, legal services coordinator, and Mohamed Cherfi, board member and an Algerian who was granted asylum in 2005.

Imagine having to flee from your home with only the clothes on your back. Previously you had been arrested, imprisoned and tortured repeatedly for your political beliefs and activities. Your cousin arranges a passport for you to safely and clandestinely leave your home, family and friends. After a circuitous journey around the world, you arrive at JFK airport in New York and what you believe to be a safe haven. To the airport immigration officials, you state your need to seek protection and political asylum. You are welcomed by the officials, right? Wrong! You are arrested and detained like a prisoner. You remain in jail for the 2 1/2 years it takes to win your case for political asylum -- if you are lucky to have access to a sympathetic lawyer.

Over the past two decades, the conditions for individuals and families fleeing persecution have worsened and their options have lessened. They are often stuck in refugee camps for generations. Even if they are fortunate enough to escape or bypass squalid camps and find their way to the richer countries, they may find even more abuse - often by the very governments that have international obligations to welcome them and process their claim for asylum. Since 9/11, the US has seen an unprecedented erosion of human rights for refugees and asylum seekers.

Here in the border state of Vermont, invisible to most of us, are hundreds of individuals and families from all over the world who are caught in this immigration limbo. Who are these people, where do they come from, and what is their story? What are the hoops they must now jump through to attain the same freedom that most of our ancestors were granted in this country? How can we ensure that there is justice for these people who have already suffered more than we can imagine?

Vermont Refugee Assistance, founded in 1987, works directly with asylum seekers, both living in our communities and in detention, to provide legal services, assistance and public awareness. You are invited to hear firsthand about the issues facing these vulnerable foreigners with VRA director, Patrick Giantonio, legal services coordinator, Michelle Jenness, and board member, Mohamed Cherfi, an Algerian who was granted asylum in 2005.

Sponsored by the Green Mountain Global Forum, In Freedom's Shadow: Asylum Seekers in Post 9/11 America, will take place on Thursday, August 24, at 7pm at the Valley Players Theatre on Route 100 in Waitsfield. It is free to the public. Please call 496-7556 for information.

Venue: Valley Player's Theatre, Rt 100, Waitsfield

Also: Community dance and corn roast featuring the rockin' Big Basin Band at Lareau Farm Inn, Waitsfield the prior evening, Wednesday August 23, 6 pm. Donations to benefit Vermont Refugee Assistance.

See related article in Seven Days.