Who is a refugee?
Legal column – June 2015
Who is a refugee? According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a refugee is someone who has fled from his or her home country and cannot return because he or she has a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membershipin a particular social group.
Over 12 million refugees around the world depend on UNHCR for protection and support.
UNHCR is a United Nations agency that was founded in 1949 and is mandated to protect and support refugees. Today, UNHCR has a staff of over 8,000 people working in more than 125 countries. The United States is one of 17 countries that regularly admit refugees for resettlement. Since 1975, the US has admitted and resettled over 3 million refugees from all over the world. The US Department of State works with nine domestic resettlement agencies to resettle refugees in about 190 communities throughout the United States. The domestic resettlement agencies help refugees with housing, health care, job placement, and cultural orientation.
Between 2010 and 2014, resettlement agencies in Colorado have resettled an average of 2,000 refugees per year. The majority of recent refugees are from Burma*, Iraq, Bhutan, and Somalia. Most of them are resettled in the Denver metro area, although some of them are resettled in Greeley and Colorado Springs.
Refugees can provide substantial contributions to the workforce and economic development for their host country. A 2013 study that was done by Refugee Services Collaborative of Greater Cleveland found that within the first few years of resettlement, refugee incomes increase substantially while reliance on government assistance drops. The study found that over the last ten years, at least 38 businesses were started by refugees in the Cleveland area creating a total of 141 jobs for the local economy. These businesses contributed a total impact of $12 million in spending in the Cleveland area in 2012. Furthermore, the study also found that second generation refugees are often high-achievers in both education and employment.
If you are curious about the refugee community in Aurora, I invite all of you to come to Aurora Global Fest at the Aurora Municipal Center on August 22nd, from 2 pm to 8 pm. The Fest is a great opportunity to see the diversity of the refugee community in Aurora. (*the refugee community from Burma prefers this name over “Myanmar” because they do not acknowledge the legitimacy of the new government)
Harry Budisidharta received his law degree from the University of Colorado Law School. As the Health Equity Advocate at the Asian Pacific Development Center, Harry works with government officials and community organizations to address health disparities in the refugee and immigrant communities. You can contact him at HarryBudisidharta@apdc.org