Four Key Lessons about Supporting Refugees in 2020

July 28, 2020

By Julie Gersten

As we continue to experience the whiplash of a global pandemic and grapple with an uncertain future, I have been reflecting on our efforts to support refugees and asylum seekers during this challenging year. Since January 2020, Refugee Action Fund has distributed $275,000 in grants to nine phenomenal organizations that are responding to pressing needs for refugees.

Here are a few key insights I’ve gleaned:

1. COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact on the lives of refugees and asylum seekers. The pandemic created a constellation of new needs for populations that already face enormous threats. Our funding enabled many organizations to ramp up their services during the pandemic so that vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers could access healthcare, cash assistance, social services and legal representation.

2. Indigenous and Black refugees are considerably more vulnerable due to systemic racism and an uptick in racial violence. Three of our new grantees — African Communities Together, Haitian Bridge Alliance and CIELO — are led by immigrants of color who are working to elevate and strengthen the movement for Black and indigenous refugees and asylum seekers. They are organizing their communities to advance their rights and also building national movements to ensure that the immigration rights field in the United States is inclusive of Black and indigenous voices. Moving forward, we will continue to center the experiences of Black and indigenous refugees in both our grantmaking and our advocacy.

3. Traditional pathways for refugee resettlement are no longer viable. Following the current administration’s efforts to dismantle the U.S. refugee resettlement infrastructure, we are in desperate need of alternative pathways to help refugees safely resettle and build their lives anew. We also need to envision models for resettlement that are more holistic and supportive of individuals who have survived so much but receive very little support as they work through their trauma. Lamp Lifeboat Ladder is an innovative project that is not only creating new spaces for resettlement in partnership with the Canadian government, but also providing their clients with the support they need to heal and thrive.

4. Our political climate demands bold advocacy and litigation to protect the rights of forcibly displaced people. We cannot sit idly by while our country's promise to welcome those fleeing persecution is undone. Our partners, including HIAS and IRAP, are working creatively and tireless to ensure that U.S. policies and laws ensure the safe passage, security and dignity of refugees and asylum seekers. 

Over the coming months, I know we keep our eyes on these insights to guide us in our grantmaking and advocacy efforts. Click here for a full list of our 2020 grantees.