Refugee Mothers: Endless Potential

Beth Oppenheim-Chan | May 10, 2013

A Somali refugee mother and children in Kakuma Camp, Kenya, hope for a better life. Photo: Annie Griffiths/Ripple Effect Images

A Somali refugee mother and children in Kakuma Camp, Kenya, hope for a better life. Photo: Annie Griffiths/Ripple Effect Images

Mother’s Day is almost here! On Sunday, May 12, millions of people across the country will have brunch, give cards and presents, and say thanks to their mothers for being one of the most important sources of support and inspiration in their lives. For some newcomers to America, celebrating Mother’s Day has an extra special meaning.

Each year, CWS resettles thousands of displaced people from all over the world across 21 states throughout the country. Among those who are able to start a new life in America, there are many mothers, daughters and other women that find themselves facing struggles beyond the regular obstacles refugees face when settling into a new country. Many have been victims of gender-based violence, are single heads of households, or are unaccompanied by any family members.

These women, or “women at risk” as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees refers to them, are increasing in number in the United States. In 2007, they made up approximately 6.8 percent of those women resettled, and are now up to over 11 percent. Like mothers all over the globe, these women must find employment, raise their children and learn to balance work and family life. They must also try their best to integrate into the communities where they settle, facing language and cultural barriers that can be incredibly challenging to overcome.

Our network of resettlement offices has resettled 1,340 women at risk in the last year and has been settling these types of refugees for decades. Unfortunately, this population increases annually. Violence and abuse related to gender means that these displaced women are disproportionately at risk of falling behind in reaching self-sufficiency milestones once they arrive in the U.S., including learning English quickly and securing a job outside the home for income support.

One thing our staff across the U.S. can tell you about these women is that they are resilient and determined. Many of them have started new businesses such as running childcare centers out of their homes, and many take advantage of English as a second language classes at our offices nationwide. They want to succeed and ultimately to make the most out of the opportunity and security that resettlement in the U.S. has provided them.

What can you do for these women this Mother’s Day? Take some time out to encourage their efforts. Women refugees across the country, particularly those most vulnerable, can use your support this Mother’s Day and every day throughout the year.  Help CWS as we work with women at risk to achieve independence and to reach their highest potential as mothers, as women, and as newcomers to our society!

By Beth Oppenheim-Chan, Associate Director for Resource Generation, CWS