I vividly remember looking at an internship through the UNV portal related to refugees before I started my graduate program. It was one of the only opportunities available that focused on my interest in social media, but I wasn’t overly sure about participating. I ended up reaching out for information and ultimately, decided against it. At the time, I didn’t feel particularly close the topic of refugee resettlement and didn’t quite understand the obstacles that face a number of refugees throughout the world.
Fast forward a year and I’m sitting in an education class at the LSE, electing to write a paper on providing education within refugee camps. My interest in sub-Saharan Africa was ignited by my primary interest in HIV/AIDS, but after focusing on the region and a number of the issues therein, I couldn’t ignore refugees and IDPs as a matter that really needed to be tackled.
So today, on World Refugee Day, I feel that it’s necessary to help in the little way that I can to bring awareness to this issue. As an American, I felt very disconnected from this issue for the longest time (in fact, in many ways, I still do). Generally speaking, it’s not something that’s in our faces here. At least not regularly. There are a number of legal instruments in place to help protect the rights of refugees around the world (see the 1951 convention and the 1967 protocol). A number of fundamental rights were outlined: the right to not be expelled, the right to work, the right to education, freedom of movement, etc. Naturally, all States that are party to this Convention try to uphold the convention as best as possible, but there are still many issues for those on the ground.
While I was working with a refugee resettlement organization in California, we worked heavily with Iraqi refugees (many of which had worked to assist the US government while overseas only to be alienated from their communities) and Bhutanese refugees. I was able to interact with a few families and individuals — children, aged 5 or so, up to veritable senior citizens, aged 60+. They were hoping for freedom, for a new start and for the prospect of having a livable existence in the US. Under the law, they were able to receive benefits for a fixed period of time (less than a year) before they had to fend for themselves. Many that I interacted with spoke very broken English, if any at all. Their skills that proved useful in their home countries weren’t acknowledged in the US. It was saddening to realize how harsh the realities truly are.
During this time, I was involved with the organization’s Vocational English language program that worked to teach refugees work-related English so they would be better prepared for the job hunt in the US. Programs like this exist throughout the US and many nonprofits need help from volunteers. I encourage you — whoever you may be — to carve a bit of time out and find ways that you might be able to assist. Whether it’s teaching English, helping with translations, or helping an organization resettle a new family, I can almost guarantee that they will be grateful.