What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving? For many refugees this yearmarked their first Thanksgiving celebration and ECDC was there to help them feel welcome. In Arlington, Las Vegas and Denver, the ECDC family, many volunteers, the surrounding community and refugees from around the world came together to celebrate Thanksgiving. These celebrations also garnered significant media coverage: Voice of America, The Arlington Connection, 9 News, Denver Post, Channel 4 and on Billion Acts of Peace.
UNHCR’s latest report Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2015, states that 65.3 million individuals were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or human right violation, an increase of 5.8 million from the previous year. Among those displaced, women and girls are most vulnerable as they are explicit targets of violence and face specific threats as a result of their gender, which includes sexual exploitation and violence, human trafficking, and a denial of their basic civil rights.
Reports show that women and children, particularly girls, do not have adequate protection while they are in refugee camps. Refugee women face treats of rape and exploitation at the hands of police officers, smugglers, and fellow refugees. Even though the United Nations (UN) describes rape as a “weapon of war,” women and girls are reluctant to seek help due to the stigma that victims face in many cultures. Many women and girls fear being ostracized for speaking out or being further victimized by their communities for having violated traditionally held concepts of “honor.”
Recognizing the plight of women and girls, the UN included gender equality and empowerment of women and girls as one of the goals in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which went onto effect as of January 1, 2016. The idea is to eradicate all forms of discrimination, violence, and exploitation towards women and girls by 2030. It also aims for equal economic opportunities for women, and advocates for access to sexual and reproductive healthcare.
During the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants on September 19, 2016, the President of the UN General Assembly, H.E. Peter Thomson, highlighted the vulnerable condition of women and girls on the move in his opening remarks and emphasized the 2030 Agenda goals and targets that need to be accomplished within the next 14 years to help address this universal concern.
As the United States prepares for 110,000 refugees in fiscal year 2017, there should be special focus on vulnerable women and girls and how they can be properly integrated in the society. Emphasis should be on formal counseling as well as informal support groups where women can bond and provide support to each other. Welcoming communities should encourage programs such as We Made This, which provides skills, mutual support, and purpose to newly resettled women. Development of psycho-social programs today can heal many women and girls from past traumas and give them the path towards greater self-sufficiency and, in many cases, mentors and leaders in their new communities.
Since its outbreak in 2011, the Syrian civil war has displaced or killed more than half of its population. At least 6.6 million internally displaced people remain in Syria, while the number of Syrian refugees around the world has grown to 4.8 million. The vast majority of those seeking refuge are being hosted in neighboring Turkey (2.75 million), Lebanon (1 million), and Jordan (643,000).
Resettlement has been deemed the most appropriate durable solution for nearly half a million Syrian refugees, yet global powers have only pledged to resettle 179,000. President Obama’s pledge to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in Fiscal Year 2016 contributes to global resettlement efforts.
In late August, the U.S. met this goal, placing Syrian refugees in 231 towns and cities across the country. Most of them have arrived as families, with women and children comprising 78% of Syrian refugees.
The resettlement of Syrian refugees has been controversial at times, with over half of the country’s Governors resisting efforts to bring Syrians into their states. Although the rigorous screening process makes refugees subject to the highest level of security checks of any traveler to the U.S., there have been frequent safety and security concerns about the resettlement program. A recent survey commissioned by Amnesty International found that 71% of American respondents support refugee resettlement in their country, and 27% would welcome refugees in their own neighborhood. When it comes to Syrian refugees in particular, the tides turn much less favorably, with the 2016 Chicago Council Survey finding only 36% support accepting Syrian refugees into the U.S.
Limited support for resettlement of specific nationalities is not a new phenomenon in America. In fact, approval rates for the admittance of Hungarians in 1958, Indochinese (Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians) in 1979, and Cubans in 1980 have consistently hovered between 25 and 34 percent. These historical influxes have typically been at a much larger scale, with Indochinese refugees arriving at a pace of 14,000 a month! In comparison, the 10,000 Syrians resettled in Fiscal Year 2016 constitute a small fraction of Syrians in need of resettlement, all refugees admitted to the U.S., and the population at large.
The achievement of welcoming 10,000 Syrian refugees this year is laudable. Still, some have argued that the U.S. should be taking in many more. Not only is the number of refugees admitted dwarfed by many other nations, but in relation to the population size, the U.S. is accepting far fewer Syrian refugees than other nations. Canada, for instance, has accepted 28 times as many, based on population. The United Kingdom, which has resettled a similar number of Syrian refugees has absorbed five times as many when population size is considered.
This year, the United States has demonstrated generosity, compassion, and commitment to the international community by resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees and supporting humanitarian efforts across the affected region. It is important to note, however, that these refugees represent only a fraction of those in desperate need, and constitute a much smaller influx to the U.S. than groups from other crises have in the past. The upcoming UN Summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants and Obama’s Leader’s Summit on Refugees have the potential to concretize and bolster global efforts to meet the overwhelming need of refugees around the world.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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!
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about ordering. Also, click the link below to fill out an order form:
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.