My name is Liliana Esther. I’m 36 years old and I’m from Valledupar, Colombia. I’m currently living with my husband, Fabian, in Texcoco, central Mexico, while we wait for the outcome of our asylum application. My two daughters, Dalyn, 13, and Cely, 11, have learning disabilities.  

Before moving to Mexico, we lived in Maicao, a city in northern Colombia close to the sea. We had a happy life there. We owned a small shop and enjoyed being close to our families. But in 2008, everything changed. Paramilitaries targeted my step-brother as a result of a labour dispute with the company he worked for. He was killed shortly afterwards. My family also began to receive threats as a result of this dispute, and we were forced to flee to Venezuela.

I have dual Colombian and Venezuelan citizenship, so I thought my family would be safe there. I was convinced that we would be able to build a new life, and for several years that was the case. We lived in the town of Maracaibo and the Oriente region, working for the church. However, things slowly began to fall apart once again. The political and socioeconomic situation in the country started to collapse.

My daughters needed special medication, which I could not get hold of in Venezuela. I myself needed a surgical procedure that could not be done in the country. The final straw came when the authorities seized my identification card because I didn’t vote for the ruling party. That was when I knew we had to leave Venezuela forever.

Liliana Esther and her family.
Liliana Esther and her family.

We returned to Colombia in 2014, and started to work in agriculture. But the shadow of the past kept haunting us. The same groups that had killed my step-brother continued to threaten and intimidate us. We decided once and for all that we needed to start a new life elsewhere; we needed a new beginning far from the difficulties that we had experienced.

We arrived in Mexico in November 2017, and requested asylum in March 2018. We are now eagerly awaiting the outcome of this procedure. Despite the uncertainty surrounding our situation, we feel safe here. Mexico and the Mexican people have been kind to us. We arrived with less than 200 dollars to our names, and shortly after a family offered us food and a place to stay, where we still live to this day.  

Fabian and I are working. We sell homemade flan and gelatin at a local market. On the weekends, we visit museums and local towns, and enjoy the rich history and culture that Mexico has to offer. Cely and Dalyn have started to make new friends. Everyone is understanding and supportive of them. They are both looking forward to studying at the Chapingo University, near our home, when they’re older. Fabian and I plan to open a Colombian restaurant, to share our food and culture with the country that has welcomed us so warmly.

Often we have heard that refugees are a drain on society, but we are living proof that this is not the case. We want Mexico to grant us asylum not just for our own safety, but so that we can forge a new life for ourselves and form part of a new society. We have hopes and aspirations to grow personally, professionally and as a family in our new country. We don’t want to be a drain on society, but rather an integral part of it.

We want people to know us by the names; not our immigration status. I was named Liliana after a close friend of my mother, while Fabian Lino was given his name in honour of his Italian heritage. Cely was the name of my mother, and now the name of my youngest daughter. And Dalyn, our oldest child, was named after one of my closest friends. Our names have meaning and shape us both as individuals and as a family. This is how we want to be seen. Not just as “refugees”, but as Liliana, Fabian, Dalyn and Cely. Not as “asylum seekers” but as human beings with human stories, lives and aspirations.

We call upon the government of Mexico and governments around the world to recognize not just the humanity of our family, but the humanity of all those who, as a result of hardship in their former lives, need a new beginning, a new story. Because behind every asylum request there is a human being. Behind every refugee, there is a name.

Foni Joyce shared the story behind her name as part of Amnesty International’s #mynameisnotrefugee campaign to mark World Refugee Day.