The World Refugee Day event last Saturday sponsored by Jewish Vocational Service and hosted by Samuel U. Rodgers Health Center celebrated the culture and freedom of Kansas City’s refugees. Congolese, Nepali, and Karen performers entertained the crowd, organizers served free food, and a variety of organizations presented information benefitting refugees.
Of the 4,000 English learners in Kansas City Public Schools, approximately 660 are refugees – primarily Somalian, Karen, Chin, and Karenni. The demographics of Kansas City’s refugees, along with their backgrounds and needs, shift continually according to world events and resettlement patterns.
As of the end of 2013, civil wars and internal violence had forced 51 million people, half of which are children, to leave their homes according to a Friday New York Times article.
The shifting flows of the displaced reflect also the changing pattern of war, which has gone from pitting countries against each other to warring factions vying for control within countries, often with guns and gunmen from abroad, as in the case of both Congo and Syria. “The nature of displacement is very different,” said Alexander Betts, a professor of refugee studies at Oxford, in a telephone interview. “The cases of displacement are very different, and the needs of the displaced population are very different.”
In the media spotlight this week is the increase of unaccompanied Central American minors crossing the U.S. border. While the number of unaccompanied minors from Mexico entering the U.S. dropped from fiscal year 2013 to 2014, the number of unaccompanied Salvadorian and Honduran minors doubled, and the number of Guatemalan minors nearly doubled over last fiscal year as of June 15th. These minors will not benefit from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program which grants asylum to minors who entered the U.S. in 2007 or before.
The influx of Central American minors was called a humanitarian crisis in a debate on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, and last week, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández called them “war refugees,” explaining they were forced to leave their countries due to drug cartel violence fueled by U.S. drug consumption.
The Refugee Project has an interactive map showing worldwide immigration patterns from 1975 to 2012.
Regardless of where they are from or why they leave, refugees bring a wide range of experiences, often complex. For example, a Karen refugee whose family fled Burma may have lived most or all of his life in a refugee camp inside Thai borders. While he may report he is from Thailand, he may not speak or understand Thai. And while some refugees have attended school in their countries or camps, others have never attended. A June 20th Facebook post by Jewish Vocational Service honors a Somalian family recently reunited in Kansas City and features a picture of the family outside of their elementary school on the daughters’ first ever day of school.
Because of the diverse backgrounds and needs of refugees, KCPS Language Services led by Allyson Hile, Co-Director of the Culturally Responsive Instruction for English Language Learners project, and Jewish Vocational Serivce work together to help educators in the district learn about the cultures and experiences of incoming refugees and how they can best meet their needs.