Methods: This study, which utilized individual semi-structured interviews as a data collection method, was conducted in two localities, Albany, New York and Clarkston, Georgia. Recruitment was conducted using both snowball sampling and horizontal sampling. Participants had to self-identify as a refugee or a community leader/member of the refugee community to be included in the study. Interviews took place in early 2021, during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic and after a series of high-profile BLM movement demonstrations and protests following the death of George Floyd in May 2020. A total of 30 participants were interviewed. Key interview questions included:
- How do you see the refugee community experiencing the BLM movement? (e.g., overall reactions)
- Do you see members of the refugee community affected emotionally by the current civil unrest?
- Do you think the refugee community feels that they have a voice to speak out against racial injustices or systematic oppression?
Interview data were voice-recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using thematic analysis.
Results: Three main themes emerged from participants’ responses:
- Refugees experience U.S. social justice movements as unsafe, triggering, and unprotected by a “conditional” freedom of speech.
- Refugees are shaken and disappointed by the racial injustices and police brutality exposed by BLM, but may also feel that the U.S. is relatively safe compared to their homelands.
- Newly resettled refugees are overwhelmed with surviving in a foreign country and do not have emotional space for social justice movements, whereas more established refugees, particularly refugee youth, may experience the BLM movement as a catalyst of healing, empowerment, and societal change.
Conclusions and Implications: This study highlighted the ways in which societal context and climate of the receiving country affect refugees’ sense of safety, as well as their desire to be involved – or not – in social justice movements. Given the interrelatedness of physical safety, societal dynamics, past trauma exposure, and mental health, such insights are of critical importance for refugee-serving practitioners and agencies. Finally, the findings advance the existing body of empirical work around refugee resettlement, mental health, integration, and inclusion.