Friday, January 22, 2016

Finding Value: The Importance of Integration for Migrants, Refugees, and Everyone Else

Intentional welcoming of refugees, with an effective process to support integration, must be a priority to support positive outcomes for refugees and host countries alike. Opening borders and providing the right to work are key, but according to many, these must be part of a more inclusive path to integration. This imperative was affirmed by multiple speakers in January 2016, who presented to USF Graduate School of Management students on issues related to refugees, forced migration, and human trafficking. Ciara Peri, Project Director at Centro Astalli, a Jesuit Refugee Services organization providing refugee services in Rome, Italy, emphasized the importance of dignity and pathways to self-sufficiency, as did Ana Clara de Martino of Caritas, the other primary refugee services in Rome. Laura Cantarini of UNHCR’s Rome office, further underscored the necessity of providing a ladder, as did Director, Fiorella Rathaus of the Consiglio Italiano per Rifugiati (CIR). Rathaus emphasized the urgency of integration: “If we don’t start from day one, recognition process takes long time and people become marginalized from the beginning and no effort is enough to reintegrate. From economical point of view, that has to be taken into consideration”. She went on to say that although difficult to measure, if refugees enter black market, become marginalized, “We are all lost. The consequences are extremely serious ones.” Certainly we see such marginalization in the U.S. not only with recent immigrants, but with others, including certain African-American, Latino, and native American communities, and the uneducated poor.

These paths to self-sufficiency may vary in emphasis based on the specific needs or cultural differences in migrant and host populations, but primary elements are fairly universal. Just providing housing and food will not suffice; ways for people to engage positively in the community, to create value and be seen, are needed. Generally agreed upon strategies include provision of language classes, healthcare, legal services, cultural orientation, and basic needs initially (housing, transportation, basic supplies). More specialized examples might include focus on gender roles, such as classes that have begun to be offered in Norway, now being replicated following the Cologne incident.

As best practices for supporting refugees and migrants are developed and implemented, as nonprofit leaders we should simultaneously consider how we can learn from and contribute to successful refugee integration policies with existing marginalized populations in the US. For example, agencies are increasingly recognizing the mental health needs of migrants, and although mental health services are offered by some, based on the immense trauma experienced by an overhwhelming number of refugees (by definition) increasing trauma-focused mental health interventions should be explored further. Trauma-focused treatment is a growing field in the US found to be successful in promoting pro-social behaviors. Trauma-focused programs have been increasingly offered to people with chronic substance use disorders, youth involved in the foster care system, and people involved in the criminal justice system. Promising findings have been found with refugees as well (Lambert, 2014).

In delivering services, we must consider how are we creating pathways to dignity and self-sufficiency? How are our systems, from top down and bottom up, from how we treat individuals to how we set strategy, built to support people to move toward self-actualization, to realize their dreams, to have a place of value in commumity and society.

We return to the idea of listening to people; of understanding and honoring the particular experience and unique aspirations of individuals. A partnership, or as Jesuit Refugee Services define its, accompaniment, is an approach that recognizes shared humanity in an equal way, so that together we can realize self-actualization and promote safe and strong societies.