The Office of Refugee Resettlement’s (ORR) commitment to helping refugees and other vulnerable populations – including asylees, Cuban/Haitian entrants, unaccompanied refugee minors, victims of torture, unaccompanied alien children (UAC), victims of human trafficking, and repatriated U.S. citizens– remains as strong as ever. ORR understands that refugees have inherent capabilities and it strives to provide the benefits and services necessary to help refugees and other vulnerable populations become self-sufficient and integrated members of American society. In Fiscal Year (FY) 2011, ORR served thousands of vulnerable populations through its various grants and services, administered at the state government level and via non-profit organizations, within an extensive public-private partnership network.
ORR’s goal in releasing the “Six Guiding Principles” last year was to re-think the agency’s approach to resettlement services, and to ensure they are appropriate and responsive to the needs to the people it serves. In FY 2011, ORR focused its efforts on programs designed to support the most vulnerable and often-marginalized refugees: single mothers, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-gender (LGBT) refugees.
Recognizing that refugee mothers are often excluded from traditional employment and microenterprise programming, ORR launched a new initiative in FY 2011 to provide professional development and technical support to refugees who want to develop home-based child care centers, under the new Microenterprise Development Home-Based Child Care Program. ORR provided $2.25 million in grant funding to 13 agencies, designed to train refugee women to develop business plans, acquire business licenses, meet federal and state licensing requirements for operating a family child care business (e.g. provide meals and snacks according to established nutrition standards, and develop an appropriate child care curriculum). This program further leads refugee mothers toward career paths that ensure family self-sufficiency; competent child care for themselves and other refugee families in their communities, and the development of a solid and transferrable skill set for small business management.
In June 2011, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) awarded a grant for the first-ever resource center to support the resettlement of LGBT refugees. Following consultations with LGBT advocacy organizations to solicit issues specific to LGBT refugees and identify current gaps in services, ORR awarded a $250,000 grant to Heartland Alliance of Chicago to create a training and technical assistance center to support all organizations aiding refugees, and inform decisions about where refugees resettle in the context of available resources and supportive communities especially for LGBT refugees. The Rainbow Welcome Initiative has since produced a range of training materials and guides for service providers, including the establishment of pilot training projects in Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia and San Diego for service providers, and continues to work with resettlement agencies and UAC service providers to create a safe space for LGBT refugees and UACs.
These two programs reflect the changing needs of incoming refugee populations, and feedback ORR has received from its partners and stakeholders across the country. They are also indicative of ORR’s commitment to client-centered programming, to ensure that the U.S. refugee program is responsive and accountable to the needs of newly arriving refugees and its stakeholders.
In November 2010, ACF and ORR leadership joined the State Department’s Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) on the first ever joint site visits to overseas programs in Amman, Jordan and the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, the largest refugee camp in the world. Meeting with organizations instrumental in resettlement efforts around the world, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the International Organization for Migration and national voluntary agencies, the delegation observed programs covering resettlement processing, cultural orientation and health care for refugees. This visit marked the first time that an ACF delegation traveled overseas to a refugee camp. In August 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius traveled to a Resettlement Transit Center in Langata, Kenya and met with refugees awaiting departure to the United States, providing advice on what they could expect upon arrival to their soon-to-be new homes in states as varied as Texas, Alaska, and Maine.
In other efforts to improve the initial refugee placement process and ensure the successful resettlement of refugees, ORR and PRM have embarked on a new process for enhancing refugee placement. Based on a National Security Council led interagency process, the first quarterly refugee placement consultation with resettlement stakeholders was convened in February 2011, with subsequent meetings held each quarter thereafter. These meetings are a key mechanism for sharing information with stakeholders on prospective and current refugee populations slated for resettlement, including matters affecting arrivals as well as those impacting refugees’ access to services and benefits in cities across the country. In addition, ORR provided resource information and data to assist PRM in their FY 2011 and FY 2012 Consolidated Refugee Placement Plans.
Looking forward to FY 2012, ORR plans to expand its focus on refugee health, especially as the nation gears up for implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on January 1, 2014. Through collaborations with the CDC, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), ORR technical assistance providers and other key partners, ORR is committed to putting refugee health and well-being at the forefront of its efforts. In this way, we will ensure that the U.S. Refugee Program upholds our humanitarian obligation to rescue and restore refugees’ safety and dignity as they become valuable members of the American public.