Refugee 101, Part 2: Who is a Refugee?

Image is part of a learning video created by Louise El Yaafouri for Colorado Refugee Connect. View the full video and get involved at  corefugeeconnect.org .

Image is part of a learning video created by Louise El Yaafouri for Colorado Refugee Connect. View the full video and get involved at corefugeeconnect.org.

Currently, there are more than 65 million displaced persons in the world.  Of those, nearly 26 million are classified as refugees. More than half of the world’s refugees are children.

Less than half of one percent of the world’s refugees will ever be resettled to a third party country, such as the U.S.  A slight handful of that exceptional one percent will make their way into our schools and classrooms.  This means that our newcomer students truly are one in a million- and in the broader context of displaced persons, closer to one in a billion.

As educators, we may be presented with the unique opportunity- and awesome responsibility- to serve students from refugee backgrounds. In this five-part series, we’ll explore the refugee experience, outline pre and post-resettlement processes, and celebrate resettled refugees as assets to our communities.


WHO IS A REFFUGEE?

Migration is a central theme of the human story.  Many, including including immigrants and migrants (by technical definition), relocate by choice- usually in search of new opportunities or improved ways of life.  

Others are forced to relocate as a means of survival.  Displaced individuals are pushed from their homes or communities involuntarily and under high duress- often leaving behind possessions, loved ones and personal histories.  Catalysts for displacement include war, famine, natural disaster or economic instability. 

Refugees are set apart from other displaced populations by one critical feature.  The flight of a refugee must be related to war or violence, and they must experience an earnest fear for their life as a result of ongoing persecution.  

This comes from the 1951 Geneva Convention, the outcome of which defines a refugee as one who fled his or her own country because of persecution, or a well-founded fear of persecution, based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.  Asylum seekers meet the criteria of a refugee but are already living in the host country or are seeking asylum at a port of entry.


Image is part of a learning video created by Louise El Yaafouri for Colorado Refugee Connect. View the full video and get involved at  corefugeeconnect.org .

Image is part of a learning video created by Louise El Yaafouri for Colorado Refugee Connect. View the full video and get involved at corefugeeconnect.org.

Each story of the refugee experience is unique.  Some travel through multiple countries in search of asylum.  In the process of escape, many must tolerate uncertainty or entrust their lives to smugglers.  Some endure periods without food, water or shelter.  Many flee without important documentation. Some are forced to leave loved ones behind.

The majority of refugees relocate to urban camps, where groups of affected individuals band together within established cities.  Urban camps are generally makeshift and may evolve to have their own economies.  Some resettle in formal refugees camps, typically organized and operated by the UNHCR. These are the image of refuge camps that most Westerners are familiar with, usually having standardized tent structures and organizational staff.

From The Newcomer Student:

It is difficult to capture the essence and extent of what a refugee camp actually is. Refugee settlements are not typically self-supporting, and rely extensively on external aid for nearly all matters of finance, food, health, and 
 viability. They are notoriously unglamorous, routinely undersupplied, and statistically dangerous. The UN High Commission for Refugees offers that, “Refugee camp is a term used to describe human settlements which vary greatly in size and character. In general, refugee camps are enclosed areas, restricted to refugees and those assisting them, where protection and assistance is provided until it is safe for the refugees to return to their home or to be resettled elsewhere.”

On average, a refugee lives in a camp setting for 17 years.  It is common for refugees from one country to be born in a refugee camp in another country (for example, a Bhutanese student may identify as Nepali, a Burmese as Thai, or a Congolese as Tanzanian.)  On average, a refugee is away from the heritage country for 20 years before a return can be realized.

 Prior to upheaval, most refugees did not desire to leave their home countries.  In fact, this process can be very traumatic.  In her poem “Home” Somali poet Warsan Shire writes, “No one leaves their home unless their home is the mouth of a shark.”

SOURCES:

American Immigration Council (2013). Located at americanimmgrationcouncil.org. Retrieved Oct. 2012.

Russell, Sharon Stanton (2002). Refugees: Risks and Challenges Worldwide. Migration Policy Institute, 1946–4037.

Hamilton, Richards & Moore, Dennis (2004). Education of Refugee Children: Documenting and Implementing Change. In Educational Interventions for Refugee Children, eds Richard Hamilton & Dennis Moore, London UK: RoutledgeFalmer, Chapter 8.

McBrien,J.Lynn(2003).A Second Chance for Refugee Students. Educational Leadership, Vol. 61, No. 2, 76–9 O. Educational Needs and Barriers for Refugee Students in the United States: A Review of Literature. Review of Educational Research Vol. 75, No. 3, 329–64.

United Nations, High Commissioner for Refugees (2012). United Nations Communications and Public Information Service, Geneva, Switzerland. Located at unhcr.org. Retrieved Aug. 2015.

Patrick, Erin (2004). The U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program. Migration Policy Institute, Washington, D.C. Located at migrationpolicy.org/article/us-refugee- resettlement-program. Retrieved Aug. 2015.

United Nations Convention related to the Status of Refugees (1951). UN Article 1. Located at unhcr.org. Retrieved June 2011.

International Refugee Committee (2015). SOAR, New York. Located at rescue. org. Retrieved Aug. 2015.

Van Hahn, Nguyen (2002). Annual Report to Congress- Executive Summary. Office of Refugee Resettlement. Located at acf.hhs.gov. Retrieved Dec. 2010.

Edwards, James R. Jr. (2012). Religious Agencies and Refugee Resettlement. Center for Immigration Studies. Memorandum, March 2012.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (2012). United Nations Communications and Public Information Service, Geneva, Switzerland. Located at unhcr.org. Retrieved Aug. 2015.

U.S. Committee for Refugees & Immigrants (USCRI) (2015). Arlington, Va., refugees.org. Retrieved Aug. 2015.

U.S. Committee for Refugees & Immigrants (USCRI) (2015). Arlington, Va., refugees.org. Retrieved Aug. 2015.

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) (2013). Path to Citizenship. Located at uscis.gov. Retrieved Aug. 2015.

U.S. Committee for Refugees & Immigrants (USCRI) (2015). Arlington, Va. Located at refugees.org. Retrieved Aug. 2015.

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) (2013). Path to Citizenship. Located at uscis.gov. Retrieved Aug. 2014.