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.”

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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.

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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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Ethiopian Christmas in January

It’s Christmas in January –in Ethiopia! Ethiopia uses a different calendar system and thus observes Christmas on January 7th this year. ECDC held a luncheon, welcoming its partners and supporters to celebrate the occasion. Certainly, there was plenty of injera (flatbread) and wat (stew) for everyone, and traditional dancing to set the festive mood. Check out the pictures below!

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The delicious Ethiopian food served at the event.

The delicious Ethiopian food served at the event.

Clients of ECDC and EDG.

Clients of ECDC and EDG.

ECDC President Dr. Tsehaye Teferra talking with our guests.

ECDC President Dr. Tsehaye Teferra talking with our guests.

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The coffee ceremony accessories.

The coffee ceremony accessories.

Coffee being prepared for our guests.

Coffee being prepared for our guests.

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Axumite Heritage Foundation Photo Gallery

A couple of weeks ago, our Public and Community Relations Officer traveled to Axum, Ethiopia, and captured many great photos of the ‘Inda Nebri’id and the new library under construction. Many of the students studying there mentioned the library was a fantastic resource to supplement their materials at the local university. Check out the pictures below!

2015 First Refugee Thanksgiving

This Sunday was our annual First Refugee Thanksgiving, where we invites refugees from our communities in the Washington, D.C. area to celebrate their first Thanksgiving in the United States with us. Check out some of our photos below!

Deputy Homeland Security Advisor Amy Pope (second left) helps serve food to our refugees.

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Katherine Parra (left) and Erick Pierola (right) enjoying Thanksgiving dinner together. Both are originally from Bolivia and arrived to the United States at the ages of 11 and 7, respectively.

Katherine Parra (left) and Erick Pierola (right) enjoying Thanksgiving dinner together. Both are originally from Bolivia and arrived to the United States at the ages of 11 and 7, respectively.

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Children enjoying the festivities with their families.

Children enjoying the festivities with their families.

Clients of a variety of ages and nationalities celebrating the evening through dance.

Clients of a variety of ages and nationalities celebrating the evening through dance.

Why I Got Into Refugee Work: Meron

With so many stories in the news today about refugees, we wanted to do something different and share stories from our headquarters about why and how they got into working with refugees, and how it has inspired them. This week, our IT coordinator Meron shared her story:

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Meron (right) with friends Bethlehem and Selam (L-R)

No one understands what being a refugee means unless they’ve been through a similar journey: one that is filled with doubt about what the future holds, but yet filled with hope and dreams, that there may be light at the end of the tunnel.

Even though refugees flee from their country for many reasons, whether it is to avoid prosecution or war, they’re searching for one common thing; peace. For me, “refugee” was just a word that I heard on the news until I came to work at ECDC.

The news mostly talked about why refugees would flee their country and the camps they stayed in until a solution is found. However, working at ECDC gave me a new perspective on what happens to refugees when they reach their final destination.

The fact that I’m fortunate enough to work for this organization and to contribute indirectly for the well-being of refugees is a satisfaction by itself.

Three years ago through mutual friends, I met and became friends with a very lovely young lady named Mahlet. She was a refugee from Eritrea, and traveled through Ethiopia and Kenya until she finally arrived in Texas and then moved to Washington, DC where she was reunited with her brothers and mother.

I wasn’t even aware that she was a refugee until that day and I was shocked to hear her stories. As I was listening to her, I could never imagine what she had gone through, and even more share her difficult stories with someone she had just met. I really felt like I was watching a movie sitting there looking at her with my mouth wide open.

More than anything, I was amazed by how she was expressing her situation in very simple terms, as if she was telling a story.  I was fascinated not only by how brave she was to share her journey but also how she still managed to have a smile on her face as she did it.

Refugees should be admired for their courage to move on, even when circumstances were making it harder for them.  As the saying goes “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.”