Women and girls comprise half of the world’s 17 million refugees. To survive displacement, refugee women and girls often take on the responsibility of providing for their families, which exposes them to sexual and gender-based violence both from within and outside their communities. With the current attention paid to crises in the Middle East and Europe, refugee issues have entered the media. Many countries have put resources into building refugee camps without developing long term solutions. Nevertheless, knowledge about refugees and resources for them are still lacking.
Currently, many of the aid programs for refugees focus on physical needs, such as food, water, and shelter. A majority of the focus is placed on more short-term solutions such as improving the refugee camps that are currently very dangerous places for refugees. Many women face trauma and fear leaving the house and risking their physical safety or legal status.
Regardless of how important it is to improve these conditions, countries should also start placing more emphasis on long-term solutions regarding the resettlement of refugees in host countries. Without advocacy and support, it is incredibly difficult for a refugee to navigate the new country.This is where organizations like Asylum Access and Refugee Transitions come in. They provide expert legal guidance to refugees to help them access resources and improve their legal status. This focus on physical needs only also can cause further psychological distress when refugees are not engaged in the process.
To discuss these challenges commonly faced by refugee populations especially by women, the WCC hosted two panelists. Our two guests were Jane Pak (Refugee Transitions, a local NGO with an international outreach) and Diana Essex (Asylum Access, an international NGO with large Bay Area operations).
Both of our speakers pointed out specific challenges for women regarding the difficulty balancing childcare and employment. Refugee Transitions seeks to cross this barrier by implementing home-based solutions and welcoming children at programs. They also emphasized the difficulty for refugees to find employment due to barriers posed by employment laws. Oftentimes, restrictions push refugees to seek illegal forms of employment. Illegal status in the country makes accessing resources very difficult.
Some people worry about balancing integration into a new country with one’s interest in going home. This is important to consider and individuals may have different concerns or priorities. Talking to people about their needs is key. Furthermore, providing work permits and other resources that allow some measure of financial independence actually makes it easier for a refugee to return home. Financial resources are important for travel, and access to information allows people to learn more about their home country and ease the transition back.
Too often, refugees are seen as a burden on a country. Ultimately, they can bring a great influx of resources. They often come with unique knowledge and the need to work hard to improve their condition. Employing these skills and experiences could create great progress for the country of refuge. Diana Essex mentioned that the refugee populations are very entrepreneurial; however, because of the employment legislation, the host country doesn’t receive data about these communities’ contribution to the national income or tax revenue levels.
Our conversation landed on the conclusion that engaging refugee populations, via employment, education and communication, is a key to a successful resettlement program. Ultimately, this approach is more effective, more thoughtful, and more just. Jane Pak, from Refugee Transitions, mentioned one awesome example of engaging with and learning from refugees. They created a narrative cookbook that tells the stories of refugee women through family recipes. You can check out the cookbook here. If you would like to take a look at the book, we have a copy at the WCC Library! You are welcome to learn and try a couple of these yummy recipes.
Posted by Belce and Annie