When refugees are being resettled in the United States, their needs are pressing – but specific. The lovely impulse that we have to reach out and help is among our best qualities. Still, taking a moment to identify specific needs is very helpful.
Providing effective assistance to refugees reveals our best selves. Refugees have demonstrated that they have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a social group or political opinion. Put simply, this means they are likely to be killed, imprisoned or harmed because of who they are, or what they think – think Chinese pro-democracy activists, journalists in a country that restricts freedom of the press – and so on.
The editorial staff at Give InKind is well versed in refugee resettlement. Here are five things to understand in offering assistance to recently resettled refugees. The products suggested within this post are items that are very often required. If you are working with a community organization to help, do reach out what particular needs they have. Necessary items are likely to be impacted by seasonal considerations, and more. Certain gift cards are hugely helpful as they provide an easy way for refugee recipients to make their own choices. They may need some help navigating a box store, though – see below.
If you want to help, consider these points. Above all, know that while refugees need things, they also need allies.
- Refugees are beginning with few assets or possessions. Understand that refugees tend to arrive with almost nothing. People in stable countries don’t always understand is that many refugees never had any specific plan about when they would leave, or where they would go. Many flee suddenly – even as rebels or government forces advance on villages. Individual flights from harm can be dangerous and halting. At journey’s end, a go-bag is likely to contain very little.
- Countries who receive refugees have highly variable levels of assistance to new refugee arrivals. Some countries provide some social services, whereas other provide none. In the United States, there are some limited funds are available to those who are admitted as refugees. These funds are not available to people who have pending applications for political asylum. (The substantive criteria is the same – those who are admitted as refugees have had their cases examined prior to their arrival in the United States, whereas asylum seekers request asylum protection after their arrival). Both of these groups tend to rely, in some part, on the efforts of non-governmental organizations to offer initial assistance.
- Depending upon the age and country of origin of a refugee, they may need assistance in learning about how things work. Conveniences we take for granted – microwave ovens and blenders are not household items in many countries. Take a few moments to make sure people are getting used to navigating everything. A garbage disposal can be mystifying. Give them a tour of their kitchens – and more. Be a good accompanier.
- Refugees are at heightened risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD.) Depression and feelings of being overwhelmed are common. Many people report a surge in PTSD symptoms – apparently “after the fact.” After they are “safe.” Understand that this makes sense if you consider that their arrival signals their first opportunity to process traumatic memories, integrate grief – and work toward the scaffolding of a new life. Ask how people are – and give them the time to tell you. I knew a refugee once who stopped talking about his experiences in flight not because they caused him additional pain to articulate, but because he sensed he made people uncomfortable.
- Refugees are about the most resilient people on earth. They tend to succeed in a country that takes them in. They tend to be become extremely patriotic. They are incredibly resourceful and don’t forget their early supporters.
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