Border wallsBorder walls are hardly new concepts since the history of border walls stems back to the Great Wall of China and beyond. Yet, in recent years, the number of border walls has skyrocketed. Since the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall, over 60 border walls have either been completed or are under construction. The number has actually jumped from 15 to at least 77. That’s more than five times as many border walls today as there were 30 years ago. In understanding the border wall it is important to understand the historical context of these walls’ creations.

Berlin Wall

The ideology and causes of the Berlin Wall are fairly well known. The wall was meant to separate East from West Germany and thus became the symbol of two competing political and economic ideologies. The conflict between the Eastern Bloc countries and the USSR on one side, and capitalist Western Europe and the United States on the other became physically manifested in 155 kilometers of concrete. Yet, the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. The conflict between the USSR and the United States, as well as their political and economic ideologies, has thus subsided. Moreover, the notion of a post-Cold War, globalizing society should foster the idea that borders ought to hold less importance.

Yet, in the history of border walls, the opposite has occurred. With the Cold War over and globalization already the reality in many countries, the creation of border walls and border protection has, paradoxically, increased. This increase has been linked to new waves of migrants, particularly refugees. They are often constructed as a mean of a country’s security but ultimately serve as barriers for refugees, forcing them to travel through increasingly dangerous situations to gain access to a certain country.

The Wall Between Africa and Europe

The notion that, in the history of border walls, these barriers are meant to deter refugee migration becomes more explicit considering the location of many of these border walls.

Around the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, one of the only slivers of Europe on the continent of Africa, is a border fence between Spain and Morocco. As the last stop on the way to Europe from Africa, the border has become a major destination for refugees and asylum-seekers from war-torn and impoverished countries in Africa. The Moroccan people and government were initially unsupportive of the wall since they view the city of Ceuta and its land as rightfully Morocco’s. Yet, recently, Spain has cooperated with Morocco economically in exchange for Morocco’s police to monitor the border. This has led to numerous human rights abuses and violence, with the Moroccan police frequently raiding refugee camps and destroying the inhabitants’ belongings.

The fact that the barrier exists in Africa, on the southern border between Spain and Morocco, also serves to create the notion of a “Fortress Europe”. Europe can contradictorily want to build bridges yet creates the image of impenetrability with all of the ethnic, economic and racial factors there to unpack.

Thus, the history of border walls shows their existence often creates the veneer of security or inaccessibility but they ultimately do little to actually enhance a country’s safety or prevent illegal immigration. Moreover, while border walls serve as deterrents for refugees, migrants will continue to try and find other means of access to a country. In Ceuta, for example, refugees continue to try and climb over the fence or storm the barrier. And, in March 2014, 1,000 of those people were successful: Fortress Europe was breached.

The Wrong Message of Walls

The cost of building and maintaining border walls are very high but they are often unsuccessful in fulfilling their purpose and yield very little results.

The border wall does communicate the idea of unwelcomeness—refugees or migrants willing to risk their lives to cross into a country with a border will not feel at ease in their new home. With deportation likely being a risk for many of these people, these people tend to keep to themselves and their communities, which hampers refugee integration and creates social stratification.

Ultimately, this brief history of border walls shows that the trend of creating border walls is very ineffective mean of fostering security, mired by xenophobia and fear of refugees. Yet, the fact is that there is an ongoing refugee crisis. The solution, however, isn’t to create massive walls to tell these people that they are unwanted but to increase humanitarian aid abroad, in order to address the issues creating these refugees, while working to welcome the refugees at home.

The average cost of resettling a refugee is around $15,000. The average amount returned by refugees through taxes for a couple decades exceeds $20,000, not to mention the benefits to the market economy, the economic incentive, particularly compared to costly border walls. This suggests countries should take in, not turn away, more refugees.

– William Wilcox
Photo: Flickr

cholera in Uganda
There has been a stream of refugees to Uganda due to the violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Republic of the Congo. The majority of the individuals who escape the brutality in those countries oftentimes find their way into the neighboring state of Uganda.

Killings and burnings of people’s homes are just a few reasons the Congolese are deciding to flee. Determination to evade the violence comes also with a sense of urgency for the Ugandan government and the people, even though there may be downfalls in the process.

Cholera in Uganda

The people of Uganda have recognized both their intake of refugees, and also the refugees’ individual issues. Ever since these people entered the country, there has been an outbreak of cholera in Uganda. This is a bacterial disease that can be contracted by drinking contaminated water and, if not treated properly, can be fatal. Since this disease is highly contagious, it is spreading rapidly throughout the country.

Most of the people coming from the Congo are screened but, unfortuantely, they are oftentimes already contaminated with the bacteria that leads to cholera at the time of their screening. “We are not doing enough to respond first,” said David Alula of Medical Teams International. “More attention needs to be paid to address the situation.”

Medical professionals understand that the situation occurs more widely and at a larger scale in the Congo, but 36 refugees have died thus far from the highly infectious disease.

Governmental Measures

The Ugandan government is doing everything it can to assist its people as well as the refugees experiencing the cholera outbreak. The nation’s head is working on emphasizing water treatment, staff recruitment to allow more people to be treated appropriately and the factors of what may have caused the severe outbreak of this disease.

“We had not planned for this kind of sickness all along. Everything is being doubled on the ground, and more efforts are [being] put in place to make sure it’s contained,” stated the Ugandan official in charge of Kyangwali, Jolly Kebirungi. It is quite remarkable to see the efforts that the Ugandan government is putting forth to help out; it treats the refugees as they would their own citizens. It shows a sign of unitedness and care that can lead to an ultimately more stable community.

A More Stable Community

“In Uganda, refugees are accommodated not in tented camps but in settlements, where they are allocated plots of land that they can farm and build their homes on.” Once Uganda accumulates enough power to ensure health and safety regulations through its medical professionals, the nation will have what it takes to contain and eradicate the disease in this region.

The main priority for Uganda is to maintain the well-being and safekeeping of the refugees they let enter the country. This strategy will lead to a nation of respect and will allow the country to prosper.

– Matthew McGee

Photo: Flickr

closing Dabaab

The Kenyan government’s recent proposal for closing Dabaab refugee camps will lead to ubiquitous effects on the country and countless individuals.

Located near Garissa, the town of Dabaab is the base for five UNHCR refugee camps that collectively house 329,811 refugees in Kenya. It by far the largest and most expansive refugee camp in the world. The majority of its occupants are Somalis who have fled endless persecution owing to the Somali Civil war and the growing momentum of the Al-Qaeda affiliated militant group, Al-Shabbab.

The Kenyan government’s mounting concern over its resources and national security has impacted this decision. With the 2013 assault on Westgate Mall and the massacre on Garissa University last year, the influence of Al-Shabbab has only grown. Dabaab has consequently become the epicenter of religious radicalization and militant recruitment in Kenya.

The announcement for closing Dabaab has been strongly condemned by Amnesty International and many foreign donors as it only exacerbates the situation and places the refugees at even more risk.

Ahmed Ahwad, Somalia’s ambassador to the U.S. has termed this proposal “logistically impractical” as resettlement and repatriation would be an incredibly tedious process which would sever the ties of goodwill that have been forged between Somalia and Kenya.

However, the U.N. High Commissioner of Refugees, Fillipo Grandi had a contrasting reaction. He visited Dabaab on June 10 and engaged in talks with Kenyan Prime Minister, Uluru Kenyatta, and confirmed the engagement and support of the UNHCR. The talks also involved increasing repatriation packages coupled with the provision of aid and basic services during resettlement.

Furthermore, Mr. Grandi’s discussions with Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud focused on improving living conditions and amplifying investments to Somalia.

A recent success for the repatriation program came to light when 237 Somali refugees left a Dabaab airstrip on June 14, 2016. A majority of them were women and children. Despite initial trepidation, many refugees feel that security in Somalia has improved and that resettlement may be a great way to resume their lives again.

This is majorly due to the fact that the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) has made great progress by providing humanitarian support and working with the African Union and the U.N. They have protected many vulnerable groups and are currently working collaboratively with the Ethiopian National Defence forces (ENDF) to destabilize Al-Shabbab.

Additionally, the recent talks that were held between Mr.Uhuru and the United Nations Security Council ( UNSC) on May 21 have spearheaded the formation of a “task force” focused on dealing with refugee management. This aims to make the resettlement program more efficient and readdress closing Dabaab.

This major leap will only aggravate the insurmountable pressure in Europe owing to the migrant crisis. The sudden influx from Kenya may be a threat to the sovereignty and national security in some countries. The recent World Humanitarian Summit accentuates these facts.

Even though the pressure on the Kenyan economy will be alleviated, Kenya will still be held in contempt for not fulfilling a necessary international obligation owing to its proximity with Somalia. The growing turbulence in many parts of Africa may only hinder the resettlement program.

Shivani Ekkanath

Photo: Flickr

Refugee Resettlement Process
The U.S. first opened its doors to refugees in 1948 following World War II, when over 200,000 Europeans fled from Nazi persecution. The 1948 Displaced Persons Act granted these refugees permanent residence and the right to employment in the U.S. Later, the Refugee Act of 1980 standardized the process of refugee resettlement in the U.S. by defining official refugee status and becoming the legal framework for today’s U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.

Refugee Resettlement Process


Qualifying as a Refugee

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) defines refugees as “people who have been persecuted or fear they will be persecuted on account of race, religion, nationality, and/or membership in a particular social group or political opinion.” In the past, this has included people fleeing Nazi persecution or Communist regimes.

Today, thousands are fleeing Central America to avoid escalating violence as well as Syria to avoid what has been referred to as “the worst humanitarian crisis of our time.” The process by which refugees can enter the U.S. can only begin if a person is considered an official refugee under U.S. immigration law. If a person qualifies as a refugee, they must then be admitted to the U.S. Resettlement Program (USRP).

Being admitted to the U.S. Resettlement Program (USRP)

If a person qualifies as a refugee, they must then be admitted to the U.S. Resettlement Program (USRP) through a referral from the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR), a U.S. Embassy, the U.S. Department of State or a family member already in the U.S. seeking to reunite. Nine Resettlement Support Centers (RSCs) around the world receive these referrals and assemble eligible applications for further consideration.

These centers are largely faith-based nonprofit organizations approved by the U.S. government to ensure utmost security when recommending an applicant for resettlement. Part of the application process requires a security screening (handled by the Department of Homeland Security and USCIS) and a health screening to ensure that applicants with a security concern or an infectious disease do not enter the U.S.

This process, on average, takes between 18 and 24 months.

Refugee Resettlement in the U.S.

If all is cleared, a refugee is paired with a sponsorship program, such as Sponsors Organized to Assist Refugees (SOAR) or Immigrant Connect, which provide new immigrants with counseling, translation and interpretation services, cultural orientation, English tutoring, financial stability during their transition to the U.S. and job search help.

Organizations like SOAR depend on community involvement in sponsoring or co-sponsoring a refugee and donating necessities such as clothing, bedding, lamps, dishes, diapers and toiletries. Volunteers help new immigrants navigate the public transit system, pick up their social security cards, obtain health services, and register for school. Refugees do not pay out of pocket for the initial cost of transitioning to the US.

Many sponsors receive grants from non-profit organizations that enable them to cover the first month’s rent and food for refugees so that newcomers may focus their energy on assimilating into the American way of life. Refugees are placed in the U.S. primarily according to connections they may have in a particular state.

A State Department spokesperson, speaking about refugees resettling in the U.S., explains, “We try very hard to get refugees close to people that they know because we think that they have a better chance of success if they have [a] support network when they first arrive, aside from just the volunteers.” Other factors include easy access to healthcare depending on personal medical conditions, fluency in English, and job prospects.

Assimilation and building a new life

After the initial chaos and novelty of entering a new country subsides, new immigrants seek to build a new life. They must acquire the appropriate credentials sanctioned by U.S. standards to continue in a field such as medicine or teaching. As a result, many immigrants find themselves at first in low-skilled jobs.

Though refugees do not pay out of pocket for any of their costs at the time of their resettlement, they must begin repaying their travel loan 6 months after arrival.

Though they receive up to three month’s rent, they do not enter subsidized housing, and therefore must find a job shortly after resettling in the U.S. In addition, U.S. agencies, such as Catholic Charities USA, are set up to help refugees apply for jobs and find education and training for their trade.

Just like any American citizen, they are free to relocate as they wish. Local organizations are set up in many cities to continue giving support to refugees.

Mary Furth

Sources: Refugees,, UWB, USCIS, US News
Photo: Googgle Images

In 2013 an estimated 51 million people worldwide, half of which are children, were forced to leave their homes, according to a recently released annual report by the United Nations, and this number does not include the most recent refuge increase due to violence in Iraq. While most in the survey are homeless in their own country (internally displaced people or “IDPs”) there are around 16.7 million who are refugees in other countries.

In some countries, camps are set up to provide temporary housing and services for displaced populations. However, many of these camps tend to be long-term homes due to protracted conflicts in the refugees home countries.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, which registers refugees at camps around the world, refers around 1 percent of all refugees for resettlement into third countries each year. The countries that have robust resettlement programs take on the responsibility of providing refugees a place to rebuild a life, often in a place where they have no understanding of the culture and rarely speak the same language. Major resettlement countries around the world include: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the U.S.

The United States is the largest resettlement country in the world, receiving nearly 70,000 refugees per year. While many in the U.S. see this commitment to helping refugees around the world as an obligation and moral imperative, there has been some backlash from mayors around the country who have complained about the strain incoming refugee populations are having on their city’s social services.

The Mayor of Springfield, Massachusetts, Domenic Sarno, recently joined mayors from New Hampshire and Maine in calling for an end to the refugee resettlement programs in the U.S., saying that the U.S. State Department has not been receptive in addressing his concerns about the challenges his city is now facing.

While concerns about being able to meet the needs of incoming refugees is a legitimate question, addressing a city’s larger infrastructure, education and housing needs go much further in making sure that all residents are able to access the services they deserve.

The refugee resettlement program has been a long-standing feature in the U.S., bringing in groups from all around the world. Many cities receive larger populations of a certain group due to family reunification measures and the connections that a community already has established.

In the last couple of decades, the number of refugees around the world has increased, making it necessary to resettle more, not less refugees. Backlash often comes due to the strain caused by a few who struggle when they first arrive, but it overlooks the benefits that refugees add to communities. In an effort to address the negative stereotypes, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants created a “Here for Good” campaign to demonstrate the positive impact that refugees are having on communities across the U.S.

As the country that accepts the most refugees in the world, the U.S. is providing an opportunity for families to start a new life and buy into the American Dream. Resettlement organizations in the U.S. provide services for up to six months after a family arrives. During that time, refugees attend job training, cultural education and English classes to help them assimilate and join the workforce. All refugees have to pay back a loan from the International Organization for Migration that allowed them to come the U.S. in the first place.

Concerns about the impact that refugees have on communities will be an on-going issue as more refugees are resettled in the U.S. However, as a country that prides itself on diversity and acceptance, cities across the U.S. must not focus their attention on stopping resettlement, but rather find a way to harness the new talent and potential that refugees bring – because they when they arrive, they are more often than not “Here for Good.”

– Andrea Blinkhorn

Sources: USCRI Albany, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, The New York Times, ABC News
Photo: The New York Times