In commemoration of the 22nd Anniversary of the UN International Year of the Family, the Women's Federation for World Peace, International and the Universal Peace Federation sponsored a forum, "Supporting Resiliency in Refugee Families," which was held on November 21, 2016, at the ONE UN New York Hotel, across from the UN Headquarters.
The first session, "Setting the Framework," was chaired by Alexa Ward, WFWP International Vice President.
Mr. Ashraf El Nour, Director of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) UN Office, emphasized the need for policy makers to create "safe and orderly migration measures." He went on to say, "It's important to also look at the implications of migration on the family."
Mr. Robert Carey, Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), US Department of Health and Human Services, added that refugee resettlement is "an international burden sharing effort" as refugees and their families strengthen our community and our nation as a whole. The vetting process for applicants is both stringent and time-consuming and can take upwards of two years and, in some cases, more than a decade for family members to be reunited.
Dr. Rima Salah, Chair of the Early Childhood Peace Consortium, stated that refugee families can be powerful agents of change and transformation, a beacon of resiliency and hope. She stated that the United Nations has been instrumental in supporting countries that host refugees by creating programs that are long-term, inclusive, and empowering, that promote self-reliance, and help sustain family and community life among the displaced.
The forum continued with a second session on "Best Practices," chaired by Lynn Walsh, Co-Chair of the NGO Committee on the Family. Kelly Agnew-Bajaras, Director of Refugee Resettlement at Catholic Charities in New York City, elaborated on the complexities of working with over 700 immigrants from more than 60 different countries. "Refugees are not easily categorized," emphasized Ms. Agnew-Bajaras. "Each one has a very complicated past, hopes for the future, idiosyncrasies just like each one of us." Her department provides critical social services, including legal assistance and cultural orientation.
Claudia Connor shared how the International Institute of Connecticut supports and serves refugees and immigrants in resolving the many barriers to self-sufficiency and integration that they face. The IIC provides family-based legal services, micro loans to build credit, recruitment services, education grants and emotional healing programs for victims of torture.
The third session focused on "Personal Stories" from two refugees, and was chaired by Christina Lange, Administrator for WFWPI's UN Office. Batol Khan Mohammad, a native of Afghanistan and a graduate student at NYU, testified that Catholic Charities was instrumental in her successful integration. Despite her difficult personal history of loss, family separation and living under the Taliban regime, Ms. Khan Mohammed ended on a hopeful note, "If I can at least help one person, I'll be happy."
Evelyn Kalangala faced similar hardships, having fled to the Congo and Benin to escape the genocide in Rwanda and eventually gained asylum in the USA. She expressed her hope that orientation for refugees can present a more detailed account of the challenging circumstances they will face. Ms. Kalangala started an organization that helps refugee children create responsible habits at school and at home. "We have to preach forgiveness," she implored. "If we tell people about hatred, that's what they will hear in their life, and the same thing will happen again."