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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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.

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.

Success Stories: Syrian family hoping to make Tampa their home (via WFLA)

A FANTASTIC example of our affiliates’ hard work to welcome Syrian refugees with open arms and help them rebuild their lives. Great work, Coptic Orthodox Charities!

Source: Syrian family hoping to make Tampa their home (via WFLA News Channel 8)