These life-threatening circumstances drive the weak out of their homes. Men, women, and children
become displaced refugees thrown into the unknown without a place to call home.
All too often refugees are at a high safety risk in refugee camps and have no alternative but to seek resettlement in developed nations like the United States. Refugees face a rigorous and detailed process in order to safely and successfully resettle in the U.S. The U.S. Government accepts approximately 65,000 refugees every year, making it the top recipient of resettled refugees in the world.
The journey begins with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) where an application is filed to confirm refugee status as per international law. Once approved and a preliminary interview is conducted, the refugee’s information is passed to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) via the local US Embassy. What follows is a series of rigorous interviews and security checks of varying degrees conducted by the DHS and often times the FBI and CIA. The file is then passed on to the Department of State for final approval of admission. This process is in place to ensure the refugee is not a safety risk to America and is indeed a refugee as per US law. Many private, public, and government agencies play
crucial roles to keep the system moving.
Once approved for resettlement, the International Organization of Migration prepares the refugee for the journey with basic cultural training, medical examinations and makes travel and flight arrangements. The refugee’s information is sent to the respective resettlement agencies within the United States and they make preparations for their arrival.
Unlike immigrants, refugees were driven out of their homes and forced to resettle in strange lands due to life-threatening circumstances. Upon arrival in America, refugees must not only adapt to a new life but also battle psychological, physical, and financial hardships. Government funded refugee resettlement organizations do the best they can to support and integrate a large number of refugees with very limited resources.
Upon arrival, refugees are confronted with overwhelming expenses with very limited supporting income. The Refugee Assistance Program offers refugees with limited funding that cuts off within 3 to 6 months of arrival. This assistance is minimal and not enough to completely cover basic necessities (food, utilities, rent, etc.) let alone cover other expenses. In addition, It does not support refugees long enough to seek employment, rebuild, and become self-sufficient.
Learning a new language is never easy; now pile on the pressure of learning it in time for employment before financial assistance runs out (3-6 months). This is the case for majority of incoming refugees, who do not speak English. The struggle to simultaneously learn a new language and find a self-sufficient job is both stressful and crippling.
Arriving refugees offer a vast range of skills and experience. While some are highly skilled and certified (by their country of origin) for professional employment, others lack the experience or education that translate to the American labor market. However, both are hit with a drastic short window of time to acquire employment. Circumstance forces most to accept any dead-end blue-collar job forcing them to waste their potential, while those who remain struggle to find any job at all.
Any professional degrees or certifications obtained by refugees in their country of origin are usually not recognized in America, which causes the highly skilled (doctors, nurses, engineers, etc.) to lose everything they had achieved. The process of recertification is long and expensive: time and money that refugees simply cannot afford. And so, they turn to blue collar jobs.
As for the children in the family, the transition is just as exhausting. Many of the young refugees have either experienced education in broken-down schools or have had no schooling at all. Arriving in America’s public school system is often a cultural shock and a blow to their self-confidence. While school districts around the US have allocated funds to give special attention to refugee students, it is still not enough. With language barriers and insufficient teaching attention, refugee students perform poorly academically. To add on, students are also pressured to financially support themselves and the family with part-time employment during their school life. If young refugees are able to complete high school, many are unable to continue to higher education and must join the family struggle to financial self-sufficiency. The cycle of poverty then continues.
The average American takes for granted the simplicity of day-to-day tasks like banking, grocery shopping, and transportation. For the refugee, it’s a long journey to integration paved with many obstacles. Despite orientation sessions, many refugees are not equipped with simple life skills needed in the American society. As a result, refugees often gravitate towards communities that share their language and culture, removing any motivation to integrate into the larger society.
Refugees are assigned a resettlement agency case manager tasked with assisting them through their integration journey. However, with limited funding and resources, these case managers are overburdened with large caseloads and are unable to provide sufficient individual attention. Throughout a refugee’s arduous struggle, establishing a bond and sincere relationship goes a long way. Simple acts like visiting the family, contacting them often, or teaching them a thing or two about American life makes the world of a difference to the lives of a struggling family.
Learn how Amaanah Refugee Services is turning the tide by reading about our innovative services