Agencies, host countries tackling needs of growing number of refugees

By Beth Griffin

YORK (CNS) — Humanitarian organizations and host countries struggle to develop
new ways to address both immediate and long-term needs of an unprecedented
number of people who have fled conflict situations around the globe, according
to panelists at a Sept. 21 aid agency forum in New York.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimates more than 65 million people worldwide
were forcibly displaced from their homes by the end of 2016 as a result of
persecution, conflict, violence or human rights violations. This is an increase
of 300,000 from the previous year. The record high number includes more than 40
million people displaced within their own countries.

O’Keefe, vice president for government relations and advocacy for Catholic
Relief Services, said the “average refugee” can expect to spend up to 25 years
in that situation and the countries that host refugees are predominantly low-
and middle-income nations.

at the Church Center of the United Nations, with the iconic international
complex clearly visible through the huge windows behind them, panelists described
recent efforts to institute systemic reforms while responding to challenging
day-to-day needs of a growing displaced population.

is a life-saving intervention, like food, water and shelter, and it is critical
to get displaced children back in school as soon as possible, Giulia McPherson
said. She is the director of advocacy and operations for Jesuit Refugee

said one in four children globally are affected by crisis and conflict, and
refugee children are five times more likely to be out of school than others their
age. They also experience learning gaps caused by losing two to four years of

must be an integral part of developing a plan to receive refugees in a host
country, McPherson said. In the experience of JRS, recruitment of teachers from
the refugee community and investment in teacher training and materials produce
good outcomes for students, as does helping refugees to establish
parent-teacher associations and student organizations, she said.

displaced students use the curriculum of the country where they are hosted, not
where they originated. This prepares them for possible inclusion in the
national educational system if they cannot or do not return home, McPherson

said involving both refugees and members of the host community is critical to
the safety and success of displaced persons.

connections and acceptance are key components of a refugee’s integration
process and should be prioritized in programming and policy development,” said Jennifer
Poidatz, vice president for humanitarian response for CRS, the U.S. bishops’
overseas relief and development agency based in Baltimore.

restrictive policies and the real or perceived competition for finite resources
must be addressed, she said.

need to understand and respond to the concerns of the host community, combat
stereotypes, and promote awareness. As social acceptance increases, so does a
willingness to share resources and information, such as employment
opportunities,” Poidatz said.

has used puppetry in films and workshops to create a dialogue within the host
population and help build relationships in tense situations. Film, theater and
puppetry are methodologies to tell refugee stories and break down stereotypes,
she said.

agency’s programs target vulnerable displaced people and support host
communities, Poidatz said. Aid workers need different competencies for various
situations, and must try to understand cultural norms and recognize and address

a refugee situation in Greece, Poidatz said, CRS brought members of its
national staff from Afghanistan and Balkan countries to interpret the language and
share the cultural context of people arriving in Greece from those countries.

Lauten, humanitarian policy and protection adviser for the Norwegian Refugee
Council, said nongovernmental organizations are making strides to ensure that
refugees and internally displaced people are actively involved in planning
programs from which they benefit. In the past, they were not consulted about
their needs and wants, she said.

addition to prioritizing the protection of refugees and promoting better
opportunities, Lauten said attention must be paid to the details of how
programs are implemented. Winning an increase in work permits is not helpful if
there are no jobs. People cannot be resettled in third countries if their
“onward movement” is blocked.

political commitment on a regional scale supports safety and mobility and helps
to “avoid a crisis level of need,” she said.

said a 2016 initiative by the government of Kenya to send refugees home to
neighboring Somalia was postponed after international organizations protested
because Somalia was enduring a drought.

Corbridge, director of international programs for War Child in Canada, said
displaced people need access to justice and the rule of law to ensure their
safety. Refugee women and girls are especially vulnerable and are more affected
by violence than any other population, he said. Dialogue and mediation are
peacebuilding tools that War Child has used to foster mutual understanding,
particularly among youths.

noted the Sept. 27 launch by Pope Francis of Share the Journey, a two-year
global campaign led by Caritas Internationalis to raise the status of refugees
around the world by strengthening bonds between migrants and communities.

refugee advocacy and service community has come together incredibly strongly
for this,” he said. “The refugees among us are not the problem. They are
fleeing the people we should be afraid of.”

the Stranger: Making Lives Better for Refugees in Host Countries” was
co-sponsored by Caritas Internationalis and Catholic Relief Services as a side
event to the 72nd session of the U.N. General Assembly. It drew on documents
and agreements from the U.N. World Humanitarian Summit in May 2016 and the
UNHCR Summit for Refugees and Migrants in September 2016.

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