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Monday, September 15, 2014

Wednesday Lunch & Learn: The Logistical Challenges of Refugee Resettlement

From the physical feat of crossing borders to the ongoing work of reconnecting with family members and learning the culture of their new countries, refugee resettlement is a process comprised of thousands of small tasks and many large ones. Thankfully, there are organizations who ensure that the families and individuals fleeing violence and natural disaster don’t face these challenges alone. The United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees, or the UNHCR, has been a resource for tens of millions of refugees since its inception in 1950. At this Wednesday’s International Services Lunch and Learn event, two speakers, Pilar Robledo and Jeremy Harker, will discuss their work with the UNHCR to safeguard the rights of displaced persons and offer resources to refugees as they begin a new life in a new homeland.
The UNHCR, founded in 1950, offers resources
for refugees as a global agency of the United Nations.

Pilar Robledo came to the UNHCR following her Peace Corps engagement in Kyrgyzstan. After working as a consultant to other organizations under the umbrella of the UN, Robledo interviewed with the UNHCR and was asked to begin work on a survey to identify the educational needs of Afghan refugees staying in Pakistan. Her work was to focus on some of the most insecure areas of the country, and would be conducted in the midst of conflict and natural disasters in the region.

“After two years of planning, one month before our fieldwork and data collection began, Pakistan faced a devastating flood, and 1 million homes were destroyed and 20 million people were displaced or affected” She said. “We had to reroute many of the target districts, and still maintain the representativeness of the survey.”

Jeremy Harker, whose work with the UNHCR began with an internship in Ecuador and focused on refugee populations in Latin and South America, says that in some ways, managing programs for refugees is similar to program management in the for-profit world, but there are also significant differences in what considerations need to be made.

“In [a refugee resettlement] environment, you mostly run a program as you would otherwise, but working with refugees, especially in a country like Ecuador which borders Colombia, where most of the people have fled from, you do have to have some sensitivity to their culture and specific challenges,” he said. “Refugees are affected in all sorts of ways. If someone has PTSD, for example, you need to make sure their resettlement program doesn’t cause them harm, whether through thing’s they’re exposed to or the people within they’re working with.” Through his talk at the Lunch and Learn, Harkey hopes to help others better understand the plight of refugees abroad.

“I hope that those who attend will come away with a better grasp on what those fleeing their countries of origin have gone through,” he said. “Both in terms of the drivers of having to leave a home country but also the programs and different international organizations, like the UNHCR and the Red Cross who help them along the way. Robledo hopes that Lunch & Learn attendees will better understand that the United States is in a privileged position to help international refugees find safety and settlement after escaping from affected areas.

“When people want to come to the United States and live here because they can prosper, we should be proud that we are a country that can offer that to the most vulnerable populations on earth,” she said.

“When people want to come to the United States and live here because they can prosper, we should be proud that we are a country that can offer that to the most vulnerable populations on earth,” she said.

The Lunch & Learn lecture will be presented Wednesday, Sept. 17, from noon to 1 p.m. at the American Red Cross, 444 Sherman St. RSVPs are requested by 12 p.m. Monday, Sept. 15, to Tim Bothe at tim.bothe2@redcross.org. Webinar options are also available for remote audiences. For more information, contact Tim Bothe.

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