Abstract: Changing the Way We Prepare: Lessons Learned from Early Resettlement of Rohingya Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Changing the Way We Prepare: Lessons Learned from Early Resettlement of Rohingya Unaccompanied Refugee Minors

Thursday, January 13, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 13, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Kerri Evans, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland Baltimore County, Baltimore, MD
Kylie Diebold, Assistant Director – Monitoring and Evaluation, Foster Care, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops/Migration and Refugee Service, MD
Background: The US Refugee Admissions Program began with the passing of the Displaced Persons Act (1948) and was strengthened with the United States Refugee Act of 1980. Since 1975, the United States has accepted more refugees than any other country around the globe, about 3.3 million refugees. The Unaccompanied Refugee Minor (URM) foster care program has been serving vulnerable unaccompanied and separated refugees under the age of 18 since the 1970s. Over time, the nationality of URMs shifts to reflect global needs.

The Rohingya are a stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar. Over one million Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state since the early 1990s due to institutionalized discrimination and sustained violence mirroring ethnic cleaning. Thousands of children have became separated from their family due to death or violence. The first Rohingya refugees arrived to the US in 2008- only 3 people. Rohingyas were slow to arrive with only 200 refugees (through the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops/Migration and Refugee Service (USCCB/MRS) national network) by the time the first unaccompanied Rohingya children arrived in October 2013. Since that time, only 152 unaccompanied children welcomed to the US through the URM program.

Methods: Our study seeks to better understand the experiences of URM programs as they welcomed Rohingya youth to the US, including research, preparations, and adaptations they made. The study included a series of focus groups with social service providers who work/ed with Rohingya URMs including foster care program staff, foster parents, and stakeholders, as well as Rohingya youth themselves.

Results: With so few Rohingya in the US when the URMs first arrived, resettling them required extra care and attention to ensure welcome and wellbeing. A participant said, “I don't feel resettlement agencies as a whole were prepared for the Rohingya.” Few Rohingya people in the US meant a severe dearth of interpreters, which led to difficulties communicating with youth. Extreme creativity was needed as Google Translate was not even an option. Compounding this was a lack of information on Rohingya people and the situation overseas as demonstrated by, “even today there's not a really a cultural backgrounder on the Rohingya so it's like I had to do a lot of homework on my own just looking at CNN and trying to find out like who are these individuals.” Participants commented on the benefits of URMs arriving to their new communities in cohorts and how it aided integration and communication.