NEW ROCHELLE, NY (June 20, 2015) To mark World Refugee Day 2015, 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 that were developed by Salesian Missions and funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. Salesian Missions, headquartered in New Rochelle, NY, is the U.S. Development Arm of the international Salesians of Don Bosco.
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.
Each year, June 20 marks World Refugee Day, a day that honors the plight of millions of refugees and internally displaced people around the globe. UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, noted that at the end of 2014, more than 50 million people had been forced from their homes worldwide. Almost 80 percent of those displaced are women and children.
Established in 2001, World Refugee Day is coordinated by UNHRC and focuses on honoring the courage, strength and determination of men, women and children forced to flee their homes under threat of persecution, conflict and violence. Each year, the day focuses on a particular theme that highlights specific circumstances faced by refugees. This year’s theme, “Get to know a refugee – Ordinary people living through extraordinary times,” aims to bring the public closer to the human side of the refugee story.
“All around the world we are seeing families fleeing violence,” said High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres in a recent statement about World Refugee Day. “The numbers are massive – but we must not forget that these are mothers and fathers, daughters and sons. People who led ordinary lives before war forced them to flee. On this World Refugee Day, everyone should remember the things that connect all of us – our common humanity.”
Here are some of the programs Salesian Missions is highlighting in honor of World Refugee Day 2015:
In recent years, more than 450,000 people have fled the violence of Colombia to neighboring Ecuador, Venezuela, Panama and Costa Rica. Salesian Missions’ New Beginnings initiative, which started in 2011, has provided more than 1,000 Colombian refugees in these four countries vocational and human development training as well as job placement services.
Many of the Colombian refugees began the program with no marketable skills. Without the prospect of a job, it was hard for them to create stability for their families and build new lives. The New Beginnings program grants each refugee 260 hours of technical training as well as 40 hours of human development workshops. The training programs, coupled with the job placement services, allowed these victims of violence and chaos to start over and build a stable, hopeful future for themselves, their families and their new communities.
SRI LANKAN REFUGEES IN INDIA
For the fifth year, Salesian Missions has received 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, close to 2,500 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, Salesian missionaries are serving 550 individuals by providing vocational training through a network of nine Salesian-run Don Bosco schools spread across Southeast India. In addition, 550 women are benefiting 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 currently seeking funding to build a new school on a donated plot of land at the refugee camp in order to meet the growing demand.
Salesian missionaries at the camp also operate the Helping Children to be Children program which gathers refugee children and leads them in games, songs and classes held outdoors on the camp grounds. As part of the program, children are offered the opportunity to draw and learn to speak English. Close to 3,000 children benefit from this Salesian program which currently has no steady funding and is run primarily by refugee volunteers.
SYRIAN REFUGEES IN TURKEY
Sharing a 500-mile-long border with Syria, Southeastern Turkey has more than 1.6 million Syrian refugees, as reported by the United Nations. Salesian missionaries are providing services at three sites within Syria while also providing for Syrian refugees in Turkey. While many Syrian refugees stay in towns on the Turkey-Syrian border, many find their way to big cities like Istanbul where Salesian missionaries operate a program that currently serves close to 400 Syrian refugees.
At the Don Bosco Center in Istanbul, Salesian Father Andres Calleja Ruiz leads special programs for refugee children and youth from Syria as well as for a growing number of families fleeing ISIS persecution in Iraq. Because most refugees do not speak the local language it is difficult for children to attend school and adults to find work. At the Center, Salesian missionaries provide a school for more than 350 refugee children where they learn English language skills and traditional school subjects such as mathematics, geography and music. Students have access to sports and dance programs intended to help them connect with their peers and find enjoyment and comfort in their new surroundings. In addition, the program provides counseling both for youth and their families to help them overcome the challenges and traumas they have faced.
Technical skills training is a critical component of Salesian work in Istanbul. Many refugees leave the country’s border towns and refugee camps and make their way to Istanbul hoping to find employment and a more stable life. If they fail to find work, refugees are often left in dire circumstances. The Don Bosco Center’s technical skills training program is a critical safety net for those in need.