Since 1990, CWS has operated the Resettlement Support Center, or RSC Africa, based in Nairobi, Kenya. Working as part of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, CWS staff at RSC interview refugees throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, compiling their biographical and other information that U.S. Government officers will need to determine whether they are eligible to resettle to the U.S. as a refugee.
Under U.S. law, a person must demonstrate that they have fled their home country because of a “well-founded fear of persecution based on religion, race, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group” to qualify as a refugee. Through the RSC, CWS provides refugees an opportunity to tell their personal histories, in their own words, in order to demonstrate to U.S. officials that they meet this legal criteria for admission as a refugee.
Men, women and children who are approved to come to the U.S. as refugees receive cultural orientation training before departing for the US. As the Visionaries video clip above highlights, this is an important opportunity for refugees to gain skills and information that will help them to adjust to new lives in the U.S.
Depending on where a refugee is located, cultural orientation may take place in a large and busy city like Nairobi, or in a remote refugee camp located hours or even days from the nearest town. Some participants were teachers or entrepreneurs in their home country; others may have never been afforded the right to go to school. Many are anxious about their impending resettlement to the U.S. and the cultural adjustments it will bring, yet excited for the new opportunities to work, study and live free from fear – opportunities that did not exist for their families before.
Throughout refugee cultural orientation activities, CWS reiterates an important message to participants: “Your success depends on you.” Ultimately, the resilience that helps refugees to survive under harsh conditions overseas is also what helps them to transition to a new life in the U.S. Just as it does in its work to fight hunger and respond to emergencies, CWS provides refugees a “hand up” in making this transition through overseas cultural orientation, so they can make the most of the opportunities available to them in their new homes.
CWS employs 240 staff from five countries, including Kenya and the U.S., at RSC Africa and assists refugees in more than 30 countries throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. Since 1990, CWS has helped more than 200,000 refugees begin new lives in the U.S.
By Robin Dunn Marcos, Director RSC Africa with Andrew Fuys, Associate Director for International Programs