Who are Refugees?
The 1951 Refugee Convention establishing the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spells out that a refugee is someone who "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country." It is the UNHCR that determines refugee status.
Refugees often flee their home countries because of conflict, ethnic cleansing, regime change, forced displacement, threats to themselves and their families, and other persecution. When they cross the border into a second country, they may integrate into an urban area, or live in camps—sometimes for years, even decades, before a durable solution is found for them.
How many refugees are there?
The United Nations estimated that in mid-2013, there were 11.1 million refugees under their mandate. This does not include internally displaced persons (displaced within their home country), asylum applicants, or other persons of concern—which bring the total global population of concern to 38.6 million people. Almost half of the forcibly displaced people around the world are children.
How do refugees come to the United States?
Each year, Congress approves the number of refugees who will be invited to resettle in the U.S. and given a pathway to employment and citizenship. In 2013, the ceiling was 70,000. Resettlement in a third country like the U.S. is the last of the durable solutions for refugees, after voluntary repatriation and integration into their host country. Resettlement is for refugees for whom no other safe option exists.
Where can I learn more?
Global Reports and Statistics
Office of Refugee Resettlement
The Office of Refugee Resettlement is the U.S. federal office that provides resources and funding to assist refugees in becoming integrated, self-sufficient members of American society as quickly as possible. Their website contains information on ORR-funded programs by state, refugee arrival data, fact sheets, and more.
The Cultural Orientation Resource Center exists to “increase awareness regarding the likely characteristics and needs of incoming refugee groups, as well as to facilitate culturally and linguistically appropriate orientation training for these newcomers to the United States”. In addition to other resources, they put together refugee backgrounders, giving history, facts, and special considerations for refugee groups coming into the U.S.
Bridging Refugee Youth & Children’s Services (BRYCS) is a national technical assistance provider for agencies and communities working with refugee youth. They provide webinars and online training modules, as well as a Promising Practices Database for schools and service providers.
Utah Refugee Services Office
Utah’s Department of Workforce Services has a Refugee Services Offices, dedicated to improving the lives of Utah refugees by maximizing integration, coordinating refugee services and managing federal funding. Their website provides information on refugees in Utah, and on community resources within the state.
According to the 2014 Report released by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, entitled, "Resettlement and Women-at-Risk: Can the Risk Be Reduced?," refugee women may suffer from a range of threats to their personal security, including risk of expulsion or sexual and gender-based violence. Participants in the US Resettlement Program generally consider any case of a single mother and children to be a woman-at-risk because they face significant economic and social challenges after resettlement.
Salt Lake City is the second largest resettlement site in the country for women-at-risk without US ties. The city also has the highest proportion of single mothers and women-at-risk among all resettlement communities. In order to address these issues, the Asian Association is focusing on connecting all single refugee mothers with a volunteer mentor. Mentors are often seen as “cultural brokers,” helping the new arrival to meet her basic needs, while also helping her to navigate a new culture and adjust to different norms, laws and systems. A supportive relationship with a mentor can be the difference between a path toward self-reliance versus despair and isolation leading to deprivation and poverty for the mother. If you are interested in volunteering for this program, please contact us here.