World Refugee Day, and the importance of refugee integrations

Today is World Refugee Day.

In light of that, I would like to discuss the importance of refugee integration and how it differs from refugee assimilation.

What is a refugee?

The UNHCR defines a refugee as “someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. . . Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries.

I’m sure that you can imagine, as a refugee, by the time you’ve left your war-torn home, all of your belongings, and probably some fallen loved ones, you’ve been through a harrowing experience.

Refugees are stateless, but more than that they are strong.

When we define refugees as people who seek refuge, we fail to mention their determination to salvage their own humanity and find sanctuary for themselves, and for their families.

A refugee is someone who spend most days uncomfortable and faces consistent hardship.

A refugee is someone who sacrifices a lot for their safety, and for the safety of their children.

What is the difference between assimilation and integration?

Assimilation is “the process of adapting or adjusting to the culture of a group or nation”. To assimilate would be to “bring into conformity with the customs, attitudes, etc., of a group, nation,

With these definitions, it would be safe to assume that refugee assimilation would include “adapting” and “conforming” to their new home and the new culture that surrounds them.

While on some level this is necessary, to purely assimilate would be to purely conform. Refugee assimilation would then only allow you to accept your new home by denying your old home. This means you can only learn new customs by forgetting your homelands customs. It means only being able to speak the language of the new country you are in and forgetting your mother-tongue.

Integration is “an act or instance of integrating a racial, religious, or ethnic group”. To integrate would be to “to bring together or incorporate (parts) into a whole…to unite or combine ”, it would be to “to give equal opportunity and consideration to (a racial, religious, or ethnic group or a member of such a group)”.

While there are legal, social, economic and cultural challenges to both assimilation and integration, integration allows refugees to engage and adapt to their new culture and country without disregarding their former home.

Above is a picture of Hudda Ibrahim, a who came to the the United States as a Somali refugee. She now lives in St. Cloud Minnesota as an author, college instructor and business consultant. She helps immigrant students integrate into the community.

She is a great example of how refugee integration works.

Why is refugee integration important?

The average time a refugee spends in a refugee camp is 17 years.

Only 1% of refugees get out of refugee camps and get resettled into new countries.

It’s important that the refugees that do get to resettle, also get the opportunity to integrate into their new culture. They should be able to adapt new cultural norms, and still keep their cultural traditions. They should be able to learn new languages and still practice their native language.

But it is just as important to ask ourselves: how do we integrate the 99%?

How do we integrate the refugees who don’t have the opportunity to resettle?

The refugee crisis isn’t going anywhere. It’s actually getting worse.

When international communities don’t find ways to integrate refugees — in refugees camps — into our world, we deprive them the opportunity to be anything other than burden.

There is a ton human potential sitting in those camps. How do we access it and integrate it into our world?

Most refugees in refugee camps don’t have the freedom of movement. This means they have to stay in the refugee camp. They can’t go offsite to learn, or work. While agencies like the UNHCR and UNESCO try to provide educational systems, only 22% of refugee adolescents receive a secondary education (in comparison to the 84% of adolescents around the world who attend secondary school).

“Education enables refugees to positively shape the future of both their countries of asylum and their home countries when they one day return.” -Filippo Grandi UN Commissioner for Refugees

There are a hopeful and expanding group of organizations and tech-start ups — like Refugee Code Academy — who have a mission to ensure that human potential is not lost in this crisis, or in these camps.

With this in mind, RCA (Refugee Code Academy) aims to invest in students by providing them with a valuable skill set that allows them to step into the international workforce and into the international discussion on refugee rights.

Refugees deserve an education. Refugees deserve a voice. Refugees deserve a chance to integrate.

Over 65 million people are now refugees. That means every 1 in 112 people are a refugee. This number is only growing.

When men, women, and children’s lives consist of protracted stays in refugee camps with no socio-economic opportunities, it robs them of the ability to build a future for themselves. Most refugees cannot go back to the war torn countries in which they fled from, because of this it is crucial that we integrate refugees into the world. We need to welcome refugees into today, and into their own futures.

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