NEW ROCHELLE, NY (June 20, 2016) - Salesian Missions stands with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and other international organizations in honoring World Refugee Day. UNHCR has noted that 60 million people worldwide are refugees and thousands flee their homes every day. In countries around the globe, Salesian missionaries are assisting close to 400,000 refugees and internally displaced persons whose lives have been affected by war, persecution, famine and natural disasters such as floods, droughts and earthquakes. Salesian programs provide refugees much needed education and technical skills training, workforce development, healthcare and nutrition.
Established in 2001, June 20 marks World Refugee Day, which is coordinated by UNHCR, and honors the plight of millions of refugees and internally displaced people who have been forced to flee their homes. Each year, the day focuses on a particular theme that highlights specific circumstances faced by refugees. This year’s theme, “We stand together #WithRefugees” encourages everyone to add their name to the #WithRefugees petition to send a clear message to governments that they must act with solidarity and shared responsibility.
“We are in a period of deepening conflict and turmoil in the world, which is causing many more people to flee their homes than before,” said Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees in an article about the initiative. “It affects and involves us all, and what it needs is understanding, compassion and political will to come together and find real answers for the refugee plight. This has become a defining challenge of our times.”
The #WithRefugees petition will be delivered to UN headquarters in New York ahead of the UN General Assembly meeting on September 19. The petition asks governments to ensure every refugee child has access to education, ensure every refugee family has somewhere safe to live, and ensure every refugee can work or learn new skills to make a positive contribution to their community.
To mark World Refugee Day 2016, Salesian Missions is proud to highlight programs around the globe that provide life-changing education and support for refugees and internally displaced people in need. Salesian Missions, headquartered in New Rochelle, NY, is the U.S. development arm of the international Salesians of Don Bosco.
REFUGEES IN EUROPE
Europe is experiencing a maritime refugee crisis of historic proportions, according to UNHCR. By the end of 2015, more than 300,000 refugees and migrants crossed the Mediterranean Sea on their way to Europe. Syrian refugees make up the single largest group followed by refugees from Eritrea and Afghanistan. High numbers of refugees from Somalia, Iraq and Sudan who are in need of international protection are also arriving in Europe.
In Madrid, Spain, Salesian missionaries have developed programs across the country to assist Syrian refugees seeking services. Missionaries are working with local governments and other social programs to respond to the refugee crisis. Salesian missionaries who have previous experience working with young refugees and their families have started additional Salesian programs that will address the needs of today’s refugee youth. Many of the new programs focus on meeting the immediate needs of newly-arrived refugees and go on to address the need for education and employment. Missionaries are also working with local schools to help assimilate children from refugee families into classrooms.
Salesian Sisters with the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians are working with the local government and diocese in Madrid to determine the most appropriate course of action to respond to and assist refugees from Syria. Currently, the Salesian Sisters operate six socio-educational projects that offer services for children at risk of social exclusion (many of them immigrants) and a social work project that was created to provide education and workforce development services to help decrease youth unemployment and educational inequality for those in poverty, especially girls.
The German Province of the Salesians of Don Bosco has been strengthening its commitment to young refugees. To meet the large and growing need in Germany, Salesian missionaries have been continually increasing the number of houses where they give assistance to youth in need.
In addition to new houses, missionaries are now offering temporary housing. Today, 11 Salesian programs across Germany are caring for 448 refugee youth and more accommodations are being prepared to accept additional refugees as the need increases. Most of the refugees are young males between 16 and 18 years of age who have come to Germany from African countries, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. The boys are provided shelter in Salesian houses that can accommodate up to 12 people with four social workers available 24 hours a day.
SRI LANKAN REFUGEES IN INDIA
Salesian Missions receives funding from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration to conduct its New Beginnings program for Sri Lankan Refugees in Tamil Nadu, India. To date, more than 3,300 refugees have received vocational training scholarships through the program. Since 1983, ethnic violence in Sri Lanka has forced tens of thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils from their homeland in search of safety and a new life in Tamil Nadu, India. According to UNHCR, there are close to 140,000 Sri Lankan refugees in 65 countries, with almost 70,000 in refugee camps in Tamil Nadu.
Refugees face many challenges as they begin to make a new life in their host countries. Sri Lankan Tamils are unique in that their host population in Tamil Nadu is also ethnically Tamil. While Sri Lankan refugees share a common language and customs with their host community, they still struggle to gain marketable skills and find livable wage employment.
Since 2010, Salesian Missions has been providing its New Beginnings program for young male and female Sri Lankan refugees who have been living in refugee camps in 15 target districts in India. In 2015, 840 refugees graduated from the New Beginnings program. In addition, 550 women benefited from refugee camp-based small business incubator programs. The New Beginnings program provides market-conscious vocational and technical skills training that results in livable wage employment, allowing trainees to better support themselves and their families. Many refugees enter the program with few, if any, job prospects or with a history of low paid part-time work experience which is typically unskilled and often dangerous and exploitative.
REFUGEES IN KENYA
Kakuma was established in 1992 near Kenya’s border with South Sudan and was a place of refuge for unaccompanied minors fleeing warring factions in what was then southern Sudan. Today, the Kakuma refugee camp has more than 180,000 refugees, well over the 120,000 person capacity for which it was built. More than 44 percent of the refugees at the camp are from South Sudan and arrived after fleeing the country to escape conflict and violence.
Kakuma is operated by UNHCR in collaboration with Salesian missionaries in the country as well as several other humanitarian organizations. The camp offers refugees safety, security and life-saving services such as housing, healthcare, clean water and sanitation. Salesian missionaries at Kakuma refugee camp operate the Holy Cross Parish and the Don Bosco Vocational Training Center where 1,044 young men and women are receiving critical employment and life skills. There are many courses available and those studying welding, carpentry and bricklaying often utilize their new skills helping to build infrastructure within the camp. Salesian missionaries are are in the process of building a new school on a donated plot of land at the refugee camp in order to meet the growing demand.