Moving to a new place is a common occurrence for families in our country. On average, 15% of all Americans move each year. (source) A move is often one of the bigger experiences a family will go through together: a new place to live, new people to meet, new streets and stores to figure out, new schools to adjust to, and a whole new community to navigate.
Now, imagine your family is going to move. But, now imagine you are told where you must move – and you have no choice in the matter. And the place you are going doesn’t speak your language, doesn’t have familiar food or schools or stores, uses unfamiliar transportation, and lives life very differently than your family ever has.
One more thing: imagine your family can’t all come together. Imagine you are separated from one another as you move, and imagine this separation lasts ten years before your family is reunited.
This is a common resettlement experience for a refugee family being placed in a receiving country.
So, how does the process work, and who accepts refugees for resettlement?
Resettlement is the transfer of refugees from an asylum country (often in a refugee camp) to a receiving country that has agreed to admit them and ultimately grant them permanent settlement. Resettlement countries provide the refugee with legal and physical protection, including access to civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights similar to those enjoyed by nationals.
Only a small number of countries take part in the UNHCR resettlement program. The United States is the world’s top resettlement country, while Australia, Canada and the Nordic countries also provide a sizable number of places annually. In 2015, Italy became a new resettlement country and The Republic of Korea announced a three-year resettlement pilot program, increasing the number of resettlement countries to 28. (source)
Before resettlement, a person must first receive official refugee status from the UNHCR, and it must be determined that the refugee is unable to return home. Of the 14.4 million refugees of concern to UNHCR around the world, less than one per cent is submitted for resettlement (source), and this process can take months or years.
The government of each receiving country determines the total number of refugees it will accept each year. Last year, the U.S. accepted 70,000 refugees for resettlement. (source) Any refugee accepted for resettlement is taken through a process of medical clearance, security clearance, and cultural orientation by the UNHCR.
Where a refugee is placed is based on several factors. In the United States, the refugee will be resettled based on the availability of housing, employment, needed services, readiness of host community, and a variety of other factors. However, if a refugee has a relative in the United States, every effort is made to resettle the refugee near that relative.
Once the location is chosen, then travel plans are made. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) arranges air travel for most U.S.-bound refugees. Before a refugee leaves the country of asylum (where they’ve been waiting in a refugee camp), he or she signs a promissory note and agrees to repay the U.S. government for travel costs. Upon receiving necessary travel details from IOM, the American resettlement organization makes arrangements for the refugee’s arrival.
So, as the refugee family arrives to a new country, a new city, a new community, they start life over with a financial debt to the government.
Resettlement is absolutely very exciting. It is a sign of hope – that a new life is in front of the family, that there is a safe place to begin to rebuild their lives. But the realities and challenges of resettlement create a new layer of struggle and difficulty.
So what can we do about it?
First, pray that God would help families that are being resettled to quickly feel like they are at home. Pray that their neighbors would welcome them well, become their friends and open their homes to invite them in.
Next, be a welcoming neighbor. Maybe someone recently moved into your neighborhood who needs someone to reach out and be a friend. If there is a new student at school, take time to help them feel included. Engage with local agencies like Project 658 who care for refugees in Charlotte, and help make their transition to America as smooth as possible.