The spike in refugee migration over the past several years has been called the worst refugee crisis since World War II. Hundreds of thousands of refugees are fleeing conflicts in the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere. As immigration policies tighten in the US and around the world, it has become increasingly challenging to provide adequate services for asylum seekers and new citizens. It is a perfect storm of human and environmental disaster, a symptom of violent conflicts fueled by competition for resources among oil companies, manufacturers, and large agricultural conglomerates, uprooting many desperate individuals and families along the way. In short, a convergence of crises in peace, prosperity, and planet.
When survivors do manage to escape, often carrying little other than the clothes on their backs, countless obstacles stand in the way of a smooth transition from trauma to resettlement, even with the support of organizations working tirelessly to support them. Too often mental health support is sacrificed for seemingly more immediate needs around shelter and income. Too often refugees, asylum seekers, and other immigrants to the US trade their lucrative careers in medicine or engineering only to work remedial jobs to make ends meet. Too often we miss the opportunity to learn from the lived experiences of courageous survivors from all over the world.
Imagine if the need to find housing and work were eliminated during the initial transition period. Instead of scrambling to find a home and a job, likely taken advantage of by opportunistic landlords and employers, refugees are welcomed into a temporary home in a community of other refugees who can identify with the experience of risking everything for a chance at security.
This is my vision for a holistic living/learning refugee resettlement center. A core team lives and works on-site, providing mental health support for trauma survivors, legal services for long-term resettlement and human rights advocacy, job-readiness training for in-demand careers, and English language learning. That core team is supported by students and new practitioners in social work, psychology, law, public health, sustainable agriculture, and education.
The center is located on a working farm, using state-of-the art aquaculture techniques to extend the growing season and preserve water and nutrients. Produce is distributed among residents and sold at local farmers markets. The housing and community spaces are constructed from recycled shipping containers and other sustainably-sourced materials, adding structures as needed, and training residents and students in sustainable building practices. Career professionals and professors from a variety of fields are invited to come serve as job-readiness trainers in exchange for room and board on the beautiful site in Colorado.
Everyone is trained in trauma-informed care and cross-cultural communication. Everyone is encouraged to learn from one another’s skills and experiences. Regular center-wide and community outreach programs are organized to build empathy and understanding among residents and with the surrounding community.
By the time residents have completed the transitional program, they are prepared with the mental health coping mechanisms, job skills and certifications, and legal advice they need not just to survive in a new home, but to thrive and succeed.