Op Ed / The San Diego Union-Tribune: Refugees face many challenges in resettlement
PANA executive Ramla Sahid authored the following Op Ed, published in The San Diego Union-Tribune on October 10th, 2015.
Refugees face many challenges in resettlement
BY RAMLA SAHID
These are perilous times for refugees and migrants around the world. Refugees are moving in droves away from areas of conflict in the Middle East and North Africa into Europe, struggling to find better lives, and often losing their lives in the process.
Meanwhile, here in the U.S., some presidential candidates have turned against the notion that we accept “these, the homeless, tempest-tossed,” replacing acceptance for anger-driven speech designed to fire up portions of the electorate and encourage them to close the golden door, build a border wall and round up immigrants to send them back to their countries.
Fortunately, the Obama administration introduced more levelheaded policies recently, increasing the cap on refugees entering the U.S. by 30 percent in 2017.
Locally, the San Diego region is unique, located at the busiest border crossing in North America and host to one of the largest refugee populations in the U.S. Our county is home to nearly three-quarters of a million foreign-born residents, more than half of whom come from Latin America. The county has also accepted more refugees than any other county in California over the last decade, according to the state’s Refugee Programs Bureau.
These statistics showcase the opportunity to become a model community for the acceptance and growth of refugee and immigrant populations. Our local leaders should take action to welcome families caught in the flood of asylum seekers that is flowing out of the Middle East and North Africa and work to improve support systems for existing and future refugees and migrants. We must ensure that these smart, ambitious and freedom-seeking new Americans can thrive in our community and contribute to improving San Diego for all of us.
I’m the product of the desire to make it to the U.S., specifically San Diego. My family and I left Somalia and were resettled in Dallas in 1993, and relocated to San Diego shortly after. Hundreds of thousands of Somalis died from hunger, disease or the violence of civil war.
We were lucky to have the opportunity to immigrate to the U.S. as refugees and maintain a connection to the East African community, which had a large presence in Dallas but a growing presence in San Diego.
Experiencing the resettlement process exposed me to the challenges of making it as a refugee.
Many new Americans have little or no English-language proficiency, yet they need to navigate the world of nonprofit organizations and county bureaucracy, which is often hard even for Americans born and raised here.
Wages for new Americans are often low, and while some have professional or university degrees, these are not recognized in the U.S. Those with postsecondary education must restart their degrees to get ahead. Young men without education past high school are particularly vulnerable, working two or three jobs to pay rent.
We haven’t focused on the long-term resettlement and integration of these families. After living here in the U.S. for eight months, refugees lose access to basic assistance programs and we have no tracking mechanisms to see how families are doing three, five or seven years after resettlement.
Finally, housing insecurity, one of the most critical issues for all San Diegans, is high among new Americans.
City and county leaders generally lack a sense of urgency to address these issues, yet there are successful models in other cities, like Minneapolis and Dallas, focusing on refugee and immigrant workforce development – the fundamental key to success no matter where a person is from.
In Minneapolis, Somali women are empowered to open businesses, utilizing the entrepreneurial culture they depended on to survive in East Africa while devising creative capital campaigns to grow their businesses debt-free. They’re opening clothing boutiques and cafes, even becoming anchor tenants in a mall featuring many refugee-owned shops.
Meanwhile, in Dallas, a collaborative effort involving refugees, nonprofits, policy makers, workforce development agencies and the private sector, has developed a working project to drive job growth and entrepreneurship among refugees while gathering data on what drives upward mobility for the new Americans participating in the program.
I believe that all of this and more can be done here in San Diego. As one of the most business-friendly cities in California and as home to a large population of refugees, our business, community and elected leaders must step up to encourage more resettlement in San Diego and embrace the talent, diversity and entrepreneurial spirit of those forced from their former homes.
Sahid is a first-generation American from Somalia and executive director of the Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans, a nonprofit promoting the fair treatment and equitable inclusion of refugee communities in San Diego County.