Refugees are people who would prefer to return home but cannot do so because of persecution. While immigrants choose to leave their homes and come to the United States, refugees flee their homes fearing harm. As a humanitarian gesture by the United States government, a certain number of refugees are invited into the country each year.
Refugees come from varied backgrounds: some have college or professional degrees while others have had little formal education due to the upheaval of war; some come with or join extended family and community networks in the U.S., while others arrive alone without connections in their new home; some have studied English before they arrive while others must work hard to learn a new language; some refugees quickly adjust to their new lives in the U.S., while others struggle to overcome the trauma of war or the challenges of acculturation.
All refugees resettled in the U.S. hope to find safety, stability and opportunity. Culturally sensitive services, as well as a warm welcome, can help them start to feel at home again.
The vast majority of refugees adjust to their new home successfully and contribute economically and socially in many ways. Well-known refugees include Madeleine Albright, the first woman to be United States Secretary of State. For more examples of refugees who have made extraordinary contributions to their new country, see this article by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
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In response to global migration trends, BRYCS has compiled a list of resources providing background information on incoming refugee populations so that service providers are prepared for each group’s unique needs. These resource lists also include resources related to child welfare, education, and family strengthening that service providers may find helpful when working with refugee children and their families. Some of the most common refugee populations resettled by the U.S. include the following:
Bhutanese: Beginning in the 1890s, Nepali-speaking people were brought to southern Bhutan to create farmlands to provide food for the rest of the country. In the 1980s, the government began to enact oppressive integration policies toward these Nepali-speaking Bhutanese, who were tortured if they opposed the regime. Beginning in 1990, thousands of Nepali-speaking Bhutanese were forced to flee to refugee camps in neighboring Nepal, where many have lived for the past 15 to 20 years. As of 2008, many of these refugees have found a new home in the United States.
Burmese: Located in Southeast Asia, Burma is one of the poorest countries in the world. For the past five decades, Burma has been in the midst of a political and armed conflict, which has forced millions of Burmese to flee their homeland. Many of those who have fled are ethnic minorities, including the Karen, Karenni, and Chin. Hundreds of thousands of these refugees have settled in refugee camps in Thailand and Malaysia and some are now being resettled in the United States.
Burundians: Civil war erupted in Burundi, a small East African nation, during the mid-twentieth century when it gained independence from Belgium. In 1972, hundreds of thousands of Burundians, primarily of Hutu ethnicity, were killed as the result of a campaign of violence by the Tutsi-dominated government. Thousands more fled to refugee camps in Tanzania and other neighboring countries. Many of the Burundian refugees currently being resettled in the U.S. have lived in these refugee camps in Tanzania since 1972, while others have lived in the camps since events in the 1990s.
Central Americans: As the humanitarian crisis along the U.S. and Mexico border persists, USCCB/MRS has assisted with Providing Safe Passage to Unaccompanied Children from Central America by promoting permanency through family reunification and foster care through the underpinnings of Catholic Teaching in their work. As advocates continue to share information, create new resources, litigate, offer trainings, and more to help unaccompanied children, these resources are meant to aid service providers and advocates in their work with unaccompanied children and their families.
Haitians:The Cuban and Haitian Entrant Program (CHEP) originally began in 1980 and is funded by the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement(ORR) to provide eligible Cuban/Haitian Entrants with medical assistance, cash assistance, and social services. Cuban and Haitian nationals are given their “entrant status” after they arrive in this country and may be determined to be unable to return to their respective countries. Since the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the number of Haitian entrants has increased greatly.
Iraqis: Violence triggered by the war in Iraq has prompted one of the fastest-growing refugee crises in the world. Over the past few years, millions of Iraqis have fled to neighboring countries like Jordan and Syria to escape the fighting. Now many Iraqis are being resettled in the United States.
Somalis: Civil war and clan warfare erupted in Somalia in 1991, which resulted in the collapse of the Somali government. The country was left in anarchy and the economic and education systems were devastated. Many Somalis fled their country at that time, only to spend many years in refugee camps in neighboring countries. Since 1991, it is estimated that over 100,000 Somali refugees have resettled to the United States.
Syrians: The Syria conflict has triggered the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II. In the past five years, at least four million Syrians have fled their country as a consequence of the civil war and the rise of ISIS. Most have fled to surrounding countries, and many others have moved on to Europe with the hope of finding a place of peace and safety. In September 2015, President Obama directed the U.S. government to accept at least 10,000 refugees from Syria in the next fiscal year, a six-fold increase over the number admitted this year to the United States.
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