NEW YORK — President Barack Obama hopes to increase the global commitment to assisting refugees, including increasing opportunities for refugees to become more self-reliant. The president will host a Leaders’ Summit on the Global Refugee Crisis on Sept. 20, 2016 at the U.N. headquarters in New York City.
The summit addressed three goals; the first of which is to increase the funding given to international organizations and humanitarian appeals by 30 percent. Leaders were also asked to take in more refugees with the goal of doubling the number of refugee admission slots worldwide.
Frontline countries will be asked to provide the refugees they currently host with more opportunities for refugees to be self-reliant. The hope is that this endeavor will lead to 1 million more children in school and 1 million more refugees with access to legal work.
Resettlement agencies in the U.S. offer various services to address this final point. Ideally, refugees will be self-reliant within a few years. All resettlement agencies perform a set of core tasks, according to Danielle Drake, a community relations manager at US Together who was interviewed by The Borgen Project.
The work of US Together consists of providing refugees with a case manager, scheduling their flight and picking them up from the airport, finding them homes and connecting children to schools. Beyond these basics, resettlement agencies also provide a range of other services that create opportunities for refugees, depending on the agency.
At US Together, a family mentorship program matches refugee families with local families. The local family can help their peers with additional questions or problems that the resettlement agency doesn’t have the resources to accommodate.
US Together also has a program for torture survivors that supports anyone harmed by the government prior to their entry into the United States. The program offers therapy to help with the trauma and potential PTSD. Drake said that US Together wants to take a holistic approach to helping torture survivors. For example, refugees with traumatic experiences were once taken horseback riding.
For some refugees, one of the greatest challenges they face upon arrival is the language barrier. While resettlement agencies may have case workers or interpreters to help refugees, Darren Hamm, the executive director of The Refugee Response in Cleveland, said in an interview with The Borgen Project that problems with speaking English compound the trouble people have with access to services, such as health care or education.
Oftentimes children are the ones with a better grasp of English. In refugee camps, the U.N. or the International Organization for Migration set up classes for residents under 18, which is approximately half of all refugees.
Sometimes, these children are second or third generation refugees.
According to Hamm, refugees often face years of persecution before they choose to flee. After receiving recognition as refugees from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, they spend an average of 10 to 15 years in transition before they are resettled.
Refugees do not get choose the country to which they relocate. After a process involving extensive background checks and multiple interviews, refugees may be asked if they have family in any of the countries accepting refugees.
Drake said this family reunification plays a large role in where a refugee ends up. After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Hamm said that knowing someone already in the country is nearly the only way a refugee can resettle in the U.S.
After years of waiting, resettlement brings about a significant lifestyle change. For some, it means an actual house and running water. For others, it’s a step down from the life they had before the camp.
Professionals such as doctors and lawyers are often unable to bring their credentials and certifications when they flee their homes.
Pam Fine, a representative of Refugee Services Collaborative of Greater Cleveland told The Borgen Project; “It’s difficult if not impossible to get [the credentials]from the country they are fleeing. Some start over, some start the reaccreditation process, which can be long and cumbersome.”
For some, this process means a significant pay cut for refugees, as they often take jobs in factories or restaurants. Cultural orientation courses and subsequent language courses and job preparation are available during their first six months, the period in which refugee programs receive the most federal funding.
After three months, 84 percent of refugees in Match Grant are employed, according to Fine. The Voluntary Agencies Matching Grant Program is an alternative to public cash assistance and it provides services to help eligible populations, including refugees, become economically self-sufficient within 120 to 180 days of program eligibility.
Ambassador Samantha Power, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the U.N., said in her remarks on “The Global Refugee Crisis: Overcoming Fears and Spurring Action,” that many people believe that refugees are a drain on the economy.
Power points out that opportunities for refugees should increase since refugees actually contribute to the economy when they rent apartments or buy groceries. Hamm also states, “After the six months you’re expected to be paying back your airfare you borrowed to get here.”
In Cleveland, opportunities for refugees to be self-reliant have contributed greatly to the economy. An economic impact document from 2012 found that the Cleveland refugee community relies little on public assistance, despite common misconceptions. The annual $4.8 million of funding for refugee programs generates $48 million in total annual economic activity.
Referencing the work of refugees themselves, the report says, “The results speak for themselves—nearly $30 million spending from refugee household earnings and refugee-started businesses generating employment and taxes for the Greater Cleveland economy.”
– Anastazia Vanisko