HIAS: Redefining Refugee Education

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NEW YORK CITY – Often enough, casual observers of religious nonprofit organizations don’t see beyond donating money or items to those less fortunate; the effect of their gift isn’t seen. However, that doesn’t diminish the tangible support it provides for others and for the advocacy efforts of said organizations. Some of the strongest combatants against global poverty are in fact religious groups who count among the oldest and most established aid organizations in their respective communities. Putting faith into action is a defining characteristic for these groups.

HIAS, or the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, is one such nonprofit organization that has already made enormous international contributions fighting to protect refugees specifically. Tracing their roots back to the 1890s in New York City, the group opened a shelter that welcomed Russian and Eastern European Jews coming to the United States. New immigrants found a home with HIAS, who fought to reconnect those separated by persecution. Since then, the organization has been active on a global scale, rushing to the aid of Jews and others facing persecution or dire circumstance. For example, they rescued Jews fleeing Cuba in 1959 in the midst of the Cuban revolution. The organization is currently very involved with advocacy for immigration legislation and the conflicts embroiling the United States in the middle east region.

Perhaps the most promising and gratifying news about HIAS is their commitment to helping refugees become educated after ensuring their safety. One such success story is that of Olga Morkova, a Ukrainian immigrant who told her story on the HIAS website. After a short time working for the group in Ukraine, she was awarded a Fullbright scholarship to study human rights law in Washington, DC. She cites the change of scenery and quality of education with providing her a new outlook on Ukrainian migration policy.

Specifically, Olga has honed in on bureaucratic procedures and migrant child detention in Ukraine. Observing a migrant detention center, she found that many unaccompanied migrant children are often treated as adults, a practice that endangers many of them.  When those children have served their sentences, they aren’t immediately released and must go through the legal channels of securing an extra hearing. Bureaucratic red tape hinders the process tremendously in a nation that, according to Olga, lacks the “political will” to make migrant rights a priority. Despite recent steps in the right direction by the government, she applauds international aid organizations like HIAS for their contributions.

Olga Morkova’s path to higher education with HIAS serves as an example to young people everywhere. There are issues around the globe that need addressing, from human rights and global poverty to education and policy reform. The world needs dedicated, observant, and mindful individuals like Olga who aren’t satisfied with the status quo and wish to change things. Working for an aid organization like HIAS or The Borgen Project is a wonderful place to start.

- David Smith

Sources: HIAS Timeline, HIAS Blog
Photo: Jewish Journal

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BORGEN Magazine is an initiative of The Borgen Project.