Abstract: Migrant Reciprocity: Refugees and Asylees As Agents of Facilitating Integration for Self and Others (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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401P Migrant Reciprocity: Refugees and Asylees As Agents of Facilitating Integration for Self and Others

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Laurent Reyes, MSW, PhD Student, Rutgers University-New Brunswick, New Brunswick, NJ
Sana Malik, MSW, MPH, DrPH, Assistant Professor, State University of New York at Stony Brook, Stony Brook, NY
Rupa Khetarpal, MSW, Assistant Professor of Teaching, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Melanie Yu, MA, Doctoral Research Associate, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Background and Purpose: A key goal of the U.S. resettlement program is to promote early employment for adult refugees. As such, socioeconomic indicators play a large role in measuring refugee integration. However, social connections, though less emphasized, are also an important indicator. Ager and Strang emphasize the importance of relationships with individuals outside of co-ethnic groups, pre-existing community members, and social service agencies. Current research suggests a new direction for understanding integration that focuses on reciprocity-based resource exchange rather than identity or functional indicators. This literature motivates us to understand how social connections influence the resettlement experience of forced migrants resettling in the tri-state area. Ultimately, this study seeks to enrich the literature on the role of reciprocity in facilitating the process of integration within the refugee and asylee context. Applicability of findings are discussed and are part of a larger project that examines the experiences of forced migrants living in communities that do not reflect their own identities.

Methods: Twenty-one in-depth, semi-structured interviews (60-90 minutes) were conducted with adults (ages 27-70; x̄ = 41.46) that had refugee (n=12) and asylum (n=9) status. The sample predominately self-identified as cisgender male (62% male) and originated from 13 countries. Most participants had a four-year university degree or higher (52%) and were in the United States for a median of eight years (range: 2 months-68 years). Participants were recruited using a convenience and snowball sampling technique via posted and distributed fliers. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and double-coded by four trained qualitative analysts using NVivo software and guided by an inductive approach.

Results: Results overwhelmingly showed that participants within the sample have a strong desire to help other migrants and their larger receiving communities, but noted their respective agencies’ lack of formal means to facilitate such a connection. Some participants discussed that it is through their ability to help others that they know they have integrated into the community as they become a resource for others. While previous research has also found that helping others can be the mechanism by which migrant individuals can connect to their own culture and to the larger migrant community, our research shows that reciprocity invites integration into diverse communities. Participants described a sense of belonging to a new community that transcends one’s co-ethnic group. This feeling often stemmed from experiences with individuals and groups that offered a helping hand. These results provide evidence for the central role of reciprocity in the process of integration among refugees and asylees.

Conclusions and Implications: Findings highlight the importance of social connections, self-empowerment, and integration within this sample of participants, of which can be achieved by engaging in reciprocity. Resettlement agencies could potentially benefit from employing more collaborative and peer-model approaches to serving their clients. Examples include Interfaith-RISE, which staffs a refugee peer caseworker and the International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) Community Health Promoter Program, which employs peer educators to increase health literacy. Ultimately, social workers must attenuate not only to the economic well-being of refugees and asylees, but also their social well-being.