The Good Lie: How a Small Plastic Bag has come to Represent My Work


A photo from one of The Good Lie scenes. © 2014 Warner Bros Ent. © 2014 Alcon Entertainment. All Rights Reserved.

By Tuan "Tony" Do

I get asked about my job all the time by friends, family and even people I have only just met. I tell them I work with the US government to bring refugees to America. Oh, they say, like a travel agent? Well, yes, in some ways, I suppose. But it’s a lot more than just putting people on an airplane. How can I describe how the refugee program changes lives?

Leave it to Hollywood and one of my favorite actresses to come to the rescue. Opening in the US this Friday, The Good Lie tells the story of a group of Sudanese refugees given the chance to resettle in the US with the help of an employment agency counselor, played by the lovely Reese Witherspoon.

In the trailer, there is a scene at the airport in which the newly-arrived group clutches the iconic symbol of our work: the IOM bag. It’s funny how a small plastic bag has come to represent all the work that we do.

Of course, the movie only tells one part of the refugee journey. It doesn’t show all the time and effort it takes for IOM to get refugees to that airport in the US.

IOM has provided essential services in support of refugee resettlement operations for over six decades. In the last decade alone, IOM has organized resettlement movements of 892,243 refugees from 186 locations around the world (including some of my relatives from Vietnam).

We work closely with governments, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), NGOs and other partners to ensure that refugees accepted for resettlement are duly processed, given health assessments, pre-departure orientation, transport and reception in their new country.

To better prepare refugees for their new lives, IOM also conducts cultural orientation courses to provide factual information about what refugees can expect when they start their new lives in the US.

So the next time someone asks me what I do, I’ll tell them to go see The Good Lie. It doesn’t tell the whole story, but it’s a good start. And it has Reese Witherspoon.

More on IOM Resettlement work with US.

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Tuan "Tony" Do is a Program Monitoring Officer/Head of Office, IOM New York