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• Who are Refugees? •



ho are refugees? According to the 1951 Geneva Convention, a refugee is a person who has a “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” A refugee is a legal resident of the United States with the right to work legally, and after five years can apply for citizenship.

What is the difference between a refugee and an immigrant?

An immigrant is a person who voluntarily chooses to leave her or his country to permanently reside in another country. Some immigrants seek a better life; some move to join other family members; some relocate for work. Refugees, on the other hand, are often forced to flee their homes in search of safety.

How do people become refugees and resettle in other countries?

1. Flight
Men, women and children flee from their homes with only the possessions they can carry. Their journeys may take them through undeveloped countryside, forests, jungles or dangerous war zones. The destination is the border of a neighboring country.

2. Refugee camp
When refugees cross a border, the UN High Commissioner of Refugees and international aid agencies bring supplies and food and set up a refugee camp where thousands of men, women and children live for an average of eight years before they can be resettled in one of several countries, including the United States.

3. Resettlement in America
The US Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) works directly with other agencies on a screening process that takes place in refugee camps. Screenings include health and homeland security. Preference is given to families for resettlement in the United States.

The ORR engages with Voluntary Agencies (VOLAGs), such as the International Rescue Committee, to provide services for refugees arriving in the United States. Sometimes the VOLAG has as little as 24 hours notice that a family will be arriving at the airport. A case worker is responsible for picking up the family and taking them to either permanent or temporary shelter. The case worker then has 90 days to:

  • arrange for an apartment or house and furnishings
  • help the adults find a job
  • enroll children in school
  • explain resources for language learning, healthcare, and social service assistance
  • sign up for social services – Medicaid, etc.

Children are enrolled directly into neighborhood schools or into an International Center where they are typically taught English in large classes.

Refugee Resettlement in Georgia

  • Georgia has been the U.S. destination for over 60,000 refugees in the last 25 years and is one of the top 6 states in refugee resettlement.
  • Georgia had 2,636 refugee arrivals during the 2011 fiscal year, 3,224 during 2010, and 3,270 during 2009.
  • An average of 2,208 refugees have been resettled per year in Georgia since 1981.
  • DeKalb County receives the greatest number of resettled refugees in Georgia. Most are settled in the Clarkston/Stone Mountain area.

What are some challenges refugees, particularly youth, face during resettlement?

  • Dealing with trauma issues
  • Succeeding in school when they have had an interrupted education.
  • Learning in a new language
  • Being socially isolated; peer pressure/ bullying
  • Fitting into American culture (social customs, dress, behavior)
  • Finding a job
  • Identity issues – Am I American or Sudanese? How can I be both?
  • Changing family roles; parents become dependent on children as cultural negotiators and translators because they are able to learn English more quickly, which changes the power dynamics of the family.

How do refugee youth do in school here?

  • At a local high school, the graduation rate for students with Limited English Proficiency last year was 22%.

What assets do refugee youth bring to America?

Refugee youth possess unique assets and resources: survival skills, language skills, resiliency and flexibility, a unique perspective on the world, and unlimited potential. Refugee youth are poised to become future leaders of our globalized world.


For more information on refugees and the process of refugee resettlement, please visit The Cultural Orientation Resource Center offers a wealth of information and wonderful opportunities for learning more about refugees.