CTAUN Conference Morning Session – 2 Refugee Statistics and Language

Refugee Statistics

Emily Garin, of UNICEF, reminded us that our task is to spread the facts about the UN and about migration. Over half of all migrants move within their own regions. Migration overall is a great benefit, she said, if it is voluntary, and protections for those migrating are assured. Unfortunately, this is not the case today, when there are 28 million forcibly displaced children, 17 million within their own borders. Many of these will become refugees. Increasingly, there are significantly more displaced than voluntary migrants. More than half of these are children.

Like several other speakers, Ms. Garin stressed that most of those hosting refugees are not high-income countries: Syria and Afghanistan host more than half of all refugees; Turkey (with over a million refugees), Jordan (20% of its population are refugees), Lebanon, Yemen . . . all need international support to take care of the refugees who come to them.

Children face the highest risks, especially when separated from their families. They are subject to detention, violence and abuse, and are five times more likely to be out of school than those with their families. Many are also stateless, born in flight, and so have no documentation; this will affect their whole lives. What can we do? Work against detention of children and to keep families together.

Refugees and Language

Mark Harris, President Emeritus of ELS Educational Services, called language the key to refugees’ integration into their new countries, and reminded us that being multi-lingual is essential for global citizenship. Refugees need to quickly learn the language of their host country, both so they can move about independently and so they can find employment. He reminded us that many of the refugees are highly educated and were well-employed before they had to flee. However, fifty-five percent of all refugees now are from Somalia, Afghanistan and Syria, and so most speak Arabic. The languages of many host countries are unrelated linguistically to Arabic, like Turkish and Farsi. This makes their transition more difficult than it would be if they spoke a language related to that of the host country.

Three principles of language related to refugees:

  • Having a common language with the host country defuses xenophobia.
  • If children are exposed to the local language, they can learn it quickly.
  • In refugee camps most teachers are not fluent in the language of the host country, making learning the host language more difficult for refugees.

Germany has a model program: as soon as someone applies for asylum, the government provides 700+ hours of language and cultural training.

Mr. Harris urged us to remember that refugees want to work and provide for their families. Given language skills, they have the potential to participate in and be productive members of society.

CTAUN Conference Morning Session – 3 Refugees in Texas and Awards

Refugees in Texas

The final panelist of the morning was Isabella Saavedra, an immigration lawyer working with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, where she defends refugees’ rights. Herself a refugee, she came to the United States without documents from Colombia as a ten year old. She is currently working at the U.S. detention centers in Dilley, Texas, which she describes as “like internment camps.”

In 2014, there was no legal representation for refugees at the border, and many refugees were forced into mandatory detention and given “expedited removal,” which means they were deported with no legal processing. This led four Catholic refugee organizations to form CARA Pro Bono. They are all volunteers, many are attorneys and social workers who prepare the refugees for meeting with asylum officers.

Ms.Saavedra described the conditions at Dilley as inhumane: people are held in “ice boxes,” with no protection from Texas heat which often soars to 107 degrees. There is no medicine for sick children and high arsenic levels in the water. She spoke of losing hope in humanity, seeing the way the United States is treating these women and children. Ms. Saavedra urged us to call on Congress to eliminate family detention.

The Question and Answer period raised questions about the detention centers: They are run by for-profit corporations, which make huge profits and lobby Congress for more detainees. The detention centers under Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s jurisdiction. Mr. Trump’s Executive Orders would greatly increase expedited removals and remove judges from the asylum process.


The morning session ended with Awards for Excellence in Education and for Posters displaying students’ research on refugees.

The Awards for Excellence in Education [scroll down for details about the awards and winners] went to two programs for immigrants in Georgia, which has large immigrant community, and a school in Pennsylvania for funding wells in South Sudan:

  • Dr. James Badger, Beth White and Hattie Burchardt, of the International Community School, Atlanta, GA
  • Haime Haile – Georgia State University with the Clarkston Community Project
  • Sarah Beltz and Heather Elvidge and 7th Grade Educators at Keith Valley Middle School, Horsham, Pennsylvania

The Poster Awards were given to 20 college students from around the world, including a group from India who all attended the session and displayed their work. Others were from Africa and the Middle East, and the United States. Some of the posters were very informative. Others appealed directly to the heart, depicting refugee situations.