Refugee Congress in the USA
The project in brief
Refugee Congress was established under the auspices of UNHCR in 2011 and become an independent NGO in 2017. It is an ongoing project.
Refugee Congress is the only national organization in the U.S. that is led by refugees/asylees. We embody refugees speaking on their own behalf with policymakers.
The mission of the Refugee Congress is to promote the well-being, integration, and dignity of all refugees, former refugees, and asylees in the U.S.
Refugee Congress has been able to grow and be successful owing to several factors:
- The support of key funding and coalition partners who believe that refugee/asylee voices must be front and center.
- Our investment in refugee/asylee leadership development. Refugee Congress organizes trainings and other opportunities for leaders to strengthen their advocacy and organizing skills, with experienced refugee leaders mentoring others.
- Active and engaged organizational leadership (board, committees, caucuses) that set Refugee Congress goals and priorities.
Main activities of the Good Practice
- Amplifying the voices of refugees, former refugees, and asylees in education and advocacy at the local, state, and national levels.
- Raising awareness on the positive contributions of refugees, thereby contributing to building a nation of friends and supporters.
- Advocating with elected officials in support of policies that build welcoming communities and opposing policies that limit or restrict refugee resettlement/asylum programs.
- Empowering other refugees and aslyees to have a seat “at the table” with policy/decision-makers to express their needs and challenges.
In 2018-2019, Refugee Congress members organized hundreds of education and advocacy events around the country reaching thousands of community residents with stories of the positive contributions refugees make to their communities.
Members met with their elected officials in close to 30 states, gaining support for resettlement. They were engaged in over 50 media activities. This included radio, TV, and printed media interviews, as well as writing their own op-eds and letters to the editor in local and state newspapers. Members participate in various state and local governmental advisory groups around the country.
By being at the table and making refugee/asylee voices heard, Refugee Congress is contributing to shifting the narrative about refugees. It ensures that the needs and lived experiences of refugees are taken into consideration when policies are developed and resources are allocated.
- Funding partner: UNHCR U.S.A.
- Two key coalition partners: Refugee Council USA and We Are All American Campaign
Challenges and how they were overcome
The political environment in the United States poses significant challenges to achieving our mission. It is easy to become disheartened by the continued efforts to dismantle an infrastructure built over decades that has always welcomed and integrated.
Adequate resources are always a challenge. We would like to at least double our budget to be fully staffed and ensure we can provide adequate support to all members across the country.
The fact that Refugee Congress is refugee/asylee-led helps us overcome some of the challenges we face. Our members become each other’s best cheerleaders – supporting one another to keep standing up and speaking out as, and for, refugees/asylees. As we increase our visibility and grow our network of partners, more opportunities for resources open up.
Results of the Good Practice
- Refugees/asylees telling their own stories has a greater influence on the public and policymakers rather than others speaking for them. Several members have stopped anti-refugee policies in their states through their personal testimonies.
- Refugees/asylees being at the table contributes to a better understanding about what makes resettlement/integration work and ultimately better public policies. Many members know resettlement from both sides – they were resettled and now work in resettlement.
- Refugee Congress has inspired more refugees/aslyees around the country to stand up and speak out. We are currently expanding our membership as a result of this increased desire among refugees/asylees to get involved.
How the project meets the GCR Objectives
Objective 2: Enhance refugee self-reliance
Refugee Congress enhances refugee self-reliance by serving as a model for refugees speaking out on behalf of their own needs to influence policymakers (and sometimes increasingly by becoming the policymakers).
Objective 3: Expand access to third-country solutions
Refugee Congress expands access to third-country solutions by contributing to and often leading advocacy efforts at the local, state, and federal levels in the U.S. to ensure that the country continues its historic role as a resettlement country and that local communities welcome refugees.
- Expand advocacy efforts
- Grow our membership
- Increase investment in refugee/aslyee leadership
- Expand partnerships to be a powerful force for change for years to come
Further support required for the project to continue or scale up
Doubling our budget would allows us to be fully staffed and ensure we can provide adequate support to all members across the country.
Nili Sarit Yossinger, National Director, Refugee Congress