Central American Minors Program

The Central American Minors (CAM) program was initiated by the Department of State in December 2014 to provide a legal avenue for the reunification of parents possessing specified immigration status in the US with their children who remain in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. In these countries the unchecked proliferation of gangs such as MS-13 and Barrio 18 has created a public safety crisis. Citizens face intimidation and death threats on a normal basis and these areas constitute some of the world’s highest murder rates per capita.

Since the US government introduced the program, the African Community Center-DC (ACC-DC) office alone has submitted over 100 CAM applications and is currently interviewing about five to ten new applicants each week. The entire process takes anywhere from one to two years to complete. Though the turnaround time is relatively quick when compared with other refugee resettlement programs, the wait is dangerous for the minors who are without protection while their paperwork is pending.

CAM

Family reunited through CAM Program

This past July, ACC-DC staff welcomed their first CAM minor at Reagan National Airport. The minor’s arrival marked the first time in four years that he and his mother had seen each other in person and it was an extremely heartwarming reunion. Having been granted refugee status, the minor will now receive an array of resettlement benefits and is automatically placed on the path to becoming an American citizen. It was news that brought tears to his mother’s eyes.

Many local resettlement agencies have become overbooked with new applicants. The number of people interested in applying simply exceeds the processing capacity of most organizations. Additional government funding would most likely be needed to sufficiently respond to the current demand. ECDC’s resettlement network has done its best to meet with every qualified applicant, including those referred over by other resettlement agencies, and is eager to assist these parents in reuniting with their loved ones.

On July 26th, the White House announced plans to allow CAM applicants to petition for additional family members who have a relationship with the qualifying minor including siblings over the age of 21, the child’s other biological parent and relatives acting as the child’s guardian.  Costa Rica is also helping to improve Central American refugee processing by temporarily hosting up to 200 vulnerable individuals with pending CAM applications for a period of six months.

Recommended reading:

  • A History of Violence: Living and Dying in Central America by Oscar Martinez.
  • The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail by Oscar Martinez.

Updates from the Axumite Heritage Foundation

In addition to its work as a refugee resettlement agency in the United States, ECDC is also involved in humanitarian work in Ethiopia. One of its projects is the Axumite Heritage Foundation (AHF), a cultural and educational organization located in the ancient city of Axum. Created in 1993, AHF’s mission is to establish cultural and educational institutions that bridge knowledge of the past and encourage community stewardship of the future.

Our first project was renovating a historic building in Axum called the Inda Nebri’id, which had served as the home of the governor of Axum before being damaged in Ethiopia’s civil war. After its restoration, the building became the home of the AHF Library, the only major public library in Axum and its surrounding area.

Since the establishment of the AHF Library, usage of the library has grown along with Axum’s increasing population. The current building, designed as a residence and not for public use, can no longer adequately serve the community as a library. After conferring with local residents and civic leaders, ECDC/AHF decided the city needed a new, modern library designed specifically for the needs of a 21st century community.

The new AHF library will be a three story building with enlarged reading rooms and stack spaces, as well as an auditorium, classrooms, and a dedicated children’s library. Once completed, we will be able to hold educational and cultural programs for the public, including computer training, literacy and entrepreneurship classes, and public lectures on local cultural and historic traditions. ECDC believes that libraries are not simply places to read and check out books. They are centers of community development and engagement, and are critical building blocks in the growth of civil society. To read more about the AHF, please visit our website here.

ECDC President Dr. Tsehaye Teferra visited Axum in April to oversee the ongoing construction, and we are excited to share with you some photos from that trip.

Exterior

The new building features impressive exterior stone cladding done in the local style by craftsmen from Axum.

Lights and Tiles

Lights and tiles have been installed in many of the first floor rooms.

Dr. T

ECDC President Dr. Tsehaye Teferra (left) stands in front of the new building with a visitor.

Rear

A rear view of the building.

ECDC welcomes the Peace Accord between the Colombian government and the FARC

Peace is ours

“Peace is ours” Photo courtesy of i24News

On 23 June 2016, the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC for its initials in Spanish, signed a peace agreement ending a 52 year-long war, one of the longest running wars in the modern era. FARC guerrilla fighters will begin laying down their arms in a coordinated process working with the Colombian government.

The FARC are one of the largest armed groups in Colombia, but certainly not the only one. Various armed groups remain active in Colombia and are actively engaged in extortion, violence, kidnapping, and other forms of violence against Colombians.  The main targets have been women, Afro-Colombians, indigenous groups, and civil society leaders.  The peace agreement with the FARC means that one of the largest of these groups will engage in the path to peace, which has encouraged the National Liberation Army, or ELN, to begin its own peace process with the Colombian government.

According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, the conflict has left more than  6 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and has produced around 400,000 refugees. These displacement levels are highest in the Western Hemisphere and the amount of IDPs are the second highest worldwide after Syria.  The prospects for Colombian refugees and internally displaced to return home has never seemed greater than the current moment, however the road to a durable, lasting peace has just begun to be made.

ECDC encourages continued efforts of both the Colombian government and the FARC to effect a lasting peace with justice and dignity for the victims of this conflict and carries the hope that someday soon the final brick may be laid on that path to peace.

Recommended reading: THROWING STONES AT THE MOON: NARRATIVES FROM COLOMBIANS DISPLACED BY VIOLENCE edited by Sibylla Brodzinsky and Max Schoening with a Foreword by Ingrid Betancourt.

CDHS Study: Refugees Integrate Well In Colorado

This month, representatives from the African Community Center (ACC) Denver spoke on Colorado Matters radio to discuss a new study commissioned by the Colorado Refugee Services Program. The Refugee Integration Survey and Evaluation (RISE) Study focused on understanding refugee integration in Colorado over a five-year period, and the findings show that the cohort as a while progressed steadily towards “High Integration”: At each baseline, hours of employment, family income, English language proficiency, and citizenship applications increased dramatically.

Click the link below for the interview with Kit Taintor, Colorado State Refugee Coordinator, and Ganga Uprety, ACC Denver’s TANF Liaison.

http://www.cpr.org/news/story/cdhs-study-refugees-integrate-well-colorado

 

U.S. Refugee Youth Consultation Reflection

The first ever U.S. Refugee Youth Consultation was held in Washington, D.C. from February 20-22, 2016. There were 25 refugee and asylum-seeking youth from 13 different countries at the event. Four youth represented ECDC at the consultation, two from the African Community Center in Denver, Colorado (an ECDC branch office) and two from The Acculturation for Justice, Access, and Peace Outreach in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (an ECDC affiliate).

During the two-and-a-half-day consultation, the youth engaged in an art project to share their stories and they led several brainstorming sessions to identify the root causes, impacts, and possible solutions for four challenges faced by youth before, during, and after migration: 1) educational barriers, 2) struggles with cultural adjustment, 3) language barriers, and 4) discrimination/bullying.

Following the consultation, three youth participants from ECDC shared their thoughts about the consultation and how they plan to help their community.

ECDC Youth

Prabhat Adhikari (Bhutan)

“As a participant of the first ever Refugee Youth Consultation in the U.S., I had an amazing experience connecting with other youth members from incredibly diverse backgrounds. The consultation allowed me to learn about their stories and provided a platform to share my own.

The activity I liked the most was the table discussion session in which we talked about the most important challenges faced by refugee and migrant youth. By working in teams, and speaking from our collective experiences, we were able to come up with a lot of ideas about the causes, impacts, and possible solutions to these challenges; the summary of which was presented at the stakeholder meeting.

Overall, I think the consultation was very productive, and I am confident that it will inspire positive change that will help refugee and migrant youth in the future.”

Muhammad Ibraim Soe (Burma)

“As refugees and immigrants arrive in a new country, it feels like they are starting their life all over again. When I first came to the U.S., I could not attend high school because of my age. On my identification card my age was listed as 18, but that was not my real age. When I realized that, I lost my hopes and dreams. A month later, I found a school called the New America School for students between the ages of 18 to 21. Even there, I felt like I had to start all over again. The education system was new and I had to juggle between ESL and credit course requirements. I managed to attend school full-time and work full-time. I worked hard and did not give up my studies.

Now, I accomplished my first goal – I got my high school diploma and enrolled in college. My wish is to help newly arrived refugees in my community to navigate the school system, assist them in translating school materials, and create a better support network.”

Gregoire Paluku  (Democratic Republic of Congo)

“The U.S. Refugee Youth Consultation was the most amazing program for me. I loved the connection, the teamwork, support, and most of all I liked how the organizing committee members saw potential in each of us. One thing I learned from this consultation is how to help other people by being an advocate for them. During the consultation, the 25 of us worked together and became like a family. It made me realize that together we can make a change and we can be that one loud voice.

I plan to share the knowledge I gained during the consultation with my fellow refugees. Together, we will try to find the root causes of the problems we are facing as newly arrived refugees, discuss on how it affects us and our community, and then come up with solutions on how to prevent it from happening again.”

Welcoming Refugee Americorps

This week, our ECDC Refugee AmeriCorps Program Specialist Elizabeth Carlberg wrote about ECDC’s new Americorps program, and reflected on the importance of Americorps Week (March 7-11). 

On behalf of ECDC, I am happy to announce that our Refugee AmeriCorps program is underway! Developing the program has been in the works for years, and I am really grateful to have come on board in November to help get the program off the ground. It is truly fulfilling to see everyone’s hard work finally come to fruition!

ECDC’s Refugee AmeriCorps officially began on February 8, and as of this week 9 of our 10 members are in service. This week is also AmeriCorps Week 2016, a time to recognize the change effected by AmeriCorps members and alums across the country.  So, this is great timing to acknowledge the effort and dedication of all those involved in the program, particularly the amazing staff at our affiliates and their new AmeriCorps members. I also encourage you all to go to social media this week to  share how #AmeriCorpsWorks in your communities throughout the country.

As for our program, ECDC’s Refugee AmeriCorps members will be increasing economic opportunity and self-sufficiency for resettled refugees across  10 ECDC affiliate and branch offices that serve as the program’s operating sites. We look forward to sharing more details of their efforts as the year progresses.

To create this program, ECDC joined with the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the AmeriCorps Partnership Challenge, where nonprofit organizations (like ECDC) and their funding partners (like ORR) develop programs to address community needs by engaging individuals as AmeriCorps members. ECDC is one of many voluntary agencies who have partnered with ORR to create new AmeriCorps programs under the Partnership Challenge. Of course, this program could not be possible without the team effort between ECDC National Office and our affiliate and branch offices across the country.

As an AmeriCorps alum myself, I vouch for the amazing impact the AmeriCorps program has on communities and individuals, both those being served and those serving. I am proud to be  “Made in AmeriCorps,” and I hope our Refugee AmeriCorps members will benefit from their service experience as much as I have. In fact, I see it as my job to ensure that they do.

In closing, welcome to our first cohort of Refugee AmeriCorps members and best of luck in your service year!

In service,

Elizabeth Carlberg, ECDC Refugee AmeriCorps Program Specialist

AmeriCorps engages more than 75,000 members in intensive service annually to serve through nonprofit, faith-based, and community organizations at 25,000 locations across the country. These members help communities tackle pressing problems while mobilizing millions of volunteers for the organizations they serve. Since 1994, more than 900,000 Americans have provided more than 1.2 billion hours of service to their communities and country through AmeriCorps. For more information, visit NationalService.gov.

AmeriCorps is a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency that engages more than 5 million Americans in service through its AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, Social Innovation Fund, and Volunteer Generation Fund programs, and leads the President’s national call to service initiative, United We Serve.

Get Involved and “Welcome Refugees”

Over the past year, many of us have followed the refugee and migrant tragedies in the news, from halfway across the globe. It has been painful and difficult in many ways, and has often left us feeling helpless.

In the United States, many of us have been witnesses to anti-refugee sentiments, even in the local level, particularly with the 31 state governors that have opposed refugees coming to their state. We are saddened to see such disturbing language used by our elected officials. Fortunately, in the communities of our affiliates we have seen overwhelming amounts of support, donations, and volunteers stepping up with welcome refugees in their own ways.

In preparation for our 22nd annual national conference, ECDC has created “Welcome Refugees” stickers and pins to help raise and spread awareness about refugee issues going on in locations all over the world. These stickers also tie into our conference’s theme of moving from “beyond shelter” to a more durable and safe solution in resettlement and integration.

Welcome Refugees Stickers-Pins Final

If you’d like to show your support for refugees and migrants resettling in the United States, consider purchasing a sticker and/or pin from us, and share photos of yourself and your new badge of support!

Email Kim Toft at ktoft@ecdcus.org for more information about ordering. Also, click the link below to fill out an order form:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1YC7ku1c_lLAyEt7ICnVoQ7Ta8uZrJABxVUun_eQ_UHk/viewform

Note: Thanks to Kathy Edson at the Nashville International Center for Empowerment (NICE) and Alex Tapper at Compound Creative for the design and rights to use their image.

Current Spotlight: African Refugee Crises

Since the outbreak of the Middle-East conflicts, attention on African refugees has significantly reduced, though the crisis continues in the African continent. UNHCR estimates the numbers of people of concern in African countries in 2015 is nearly about 14.9 million people.

It is likely the scale of displacement will increase in the years ahead due to instability and humanitarian crisis in different parts of Africa, mainly in Central African Republic (CAR), South Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Burundi and Mali.

For decades, political volatility, sectarian violence, weather emergencies and other disasters, such as the Ebola epidemic, have been the key sources for displacement and migration of refugees in this region, yet little attention has been given to overcome this long-lasting crisis.

According to UNHCR, sub-Saharan Africa is the host to the largest number of refugees—nearly 4.1 million—and North Africa alone is the host for nearly 3 million refugees. Among other African countries, Ethiopia is the largest refugee-hosting country in Africa and the fifth largest worldwide.

The scale of displacement on the African continent has continually increased due to shifting political climates and often unforeseen new challenges. Since the eruption of conflict in South Sudan in December 2013, there has been a significant increase in the number of internal displacement, resulting to some 1.3 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and an influx of over 450,000 refugees, mostly women and children, into the neighboring countries.

The ongoing crisis in and around CAR has produced up to a million IDPs and around 180,000 refugees. Currently, there are almost one million Somali refugees around East and Horn of Africa, and most of them have lived in camps for over 20 years. Thousands of unaccompanied Eritrean children continue to flee without their parents or guardians each year, and according to UNHCR during just October 2014, about 5,000 Eritreans had escaped into Ethiopia and additional thousands escaped into Sudan.

The number of IDPs and refugees across African continents are on the rise, while the third-generation refugees are still struggling in many refugee camps without any prospect for a stable future. There is a need to raise humanitarian efforts and allocate additional resources and programs for the protection of African refugees, while seeking an appropriate durable solution to the world’s most protracted refugees in the history of mankind.

Refugee 101: The Three Durable Solutions

With more than 19 million refugees around the world, half of which are women and children, there is a dire need to explore UNHCR’s three durable solutions and find out how countries can help bring safety and stability in refugees’ lives. Once a person is deemed a refugee, there are three different options with which a person can be moved and re-established so that he or she can lead a normal life. The three durable solutions – voluntary repatriation, local integration, and resettlement – aim to end the cycle of displacement.

Voluntary Repatriation involves refugees returning to their country of origin voluntarily. A number of stakeholders, including UNHCR, host and origin countries, and international NGOs, are involved in the voluntary repatriation process. The process is initiated only when it is established that the return can take place safely and with dignity for those refugees who wish to go home, based on free and informed decision.

Voluntary repatriation is considered the most beneficial solution as it means refugees are returning to their home. However, due to ongoing conflicts in their country of origin and risk of persecution, millions of refugees are unable to return to their home, even if that is what they want. Based on IRIN reports, just 126,000 refugees were able to go home in 2014 compared to 415,000 in 2013.

Local integration involves permanently settling refugees in their first country of asylum. Most of the refugees are stuck in refugee camps for years with little or no opportunity to work or move freely outside the camp. As citizens of the country of asylum, local integration allows refugees to integrate into the local communities, build homes, and above all, it gives them hope and encouragement to start a new life.

Even though local integration is the next best option for those refugees who cannot return to their home due to continued violence, not all asylum countries are capable of providing it as an option. With Syria being deep in conflict, Jordan is hosting approximately 79,000 Syrians in its Za’atari camp, making it one of the country’s largest cities. It is a great burden for Jordan to host the increasing Syrian refugee population or to provide local integration to all, which leads to the third durable solution – resettlement.

Resettlement involves selecting and transferring of refugees from the country of refuge to another country which has agreed to admit them as refugees with permanent residence status. Resettlement provides protection and permanency so it is the most relevant durable solution for those refugees for whom neither repatriation nor local integration is possible. Additionally, it shows international solidarity and responsibility sharing.

The United Nations claims that we are facing the worst refugee crisis since World War II, with more than 19 million refugees and 59 million displaced. Considering the fact that the first two durable solutions – voluntary repatriation and local integration – are difficult to exercise, it is up to the international community to step up and increase their resettlement numbers, instead of shunning refugees and shying away from responsibility sharing.

Mobile Apps and Technology for Case Workers and Clients

The app store and internet are overflowing with programs that can help you and your clients – but finding the right, high quality programs that meet your needs can be a challenge. Therefore, we have gathered some promising programs that can help case workers manage their caseloads and help refugees thrive.

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