During the three-year program, RRP will provide a series of symposia for refugee resettlement office directors and others who support refugees to explore the multifaceted ways in which religion affects displacement, resettlement, and integration. Through through active dialogue among faith leaders, experts on religion and forced migration, and resettlement practitioners, we aim to change the way that resettlement agencies understand and approach the religion of their clients. Participants and panelists share examples, case studies, and existing good and growing practices around providing comprehensive services to refugees that respect and support their religious identities. Ultimately, we strive to reconfigure resettlement agencies’ approach to religion in their work by developing an awareness of, appreciation for, and sensitivity to the complex interplay of faith and forced migration.
The symposia will include panels and breakout sessions that examine different aspects of how religion is lived and organized for and by refugees. Each panel offers an opportunity to learn about the role of religion and develop a better sense of how to engage with religion in constructive ways to help refugees navigate their new homes. In the first panel refugees share stories of how their faith and religious communities influenced their resettlement, in the second panel religious leaders reflect on the role that their religious communities play in the lives of refugees, and in the third panel non-profit leaders illustrate how they work with and among interfaith communities. In each case we are interested in exploring the wide-ranging, diverse ways religion affects the personal and public lives of refugees.
Although we initially planned to include only resettlement officers, we broadened the pool of participants because the current administration’s reduction in resettlement numbers has led a significant number of resettlement sites to close. Consequently, many under-funded and under- staffed resettlement offices could not send a representative to Princeton. Additionally, we have learned that there’s a tremendous need for long-term support for refugee resettlement and integration beyond what nine volags provide, much of which is fulfilled by faith-based organizations.
March 25 - 26, 2019
The first symposium was held from March 25 - 26, 2019. Over 30 individuals who work with refugees across the country participated in our inaugural symposium from March 25-26, 2019.
Through open dialogue we examined religion’s role in resettlement socially and structurally, and participants had the opportunity to ask questions, share their experiences, and brainstorm ways to situate what they gleaned from the symposium in their work. Participants ranged from resettlement office directors to those who support refugees in other ways. The oral history training taught participants basic theoretical and practical methods of oral history with the goal of having those participants return to their agencies with the ability to carry out oral history collection and trainings in refugee communities. This symposium aimed to reconfigure resettlement agencies’ approach to religion in their work by developing an awareness of, appreciation for, and sensitivity to the complex interplay of faith and forced migration.
The first panel featured refugees from Rwanda, Iran, and Tibet who shared how their faith intersected with their personal narratives. They shared how their respective places of worship became the bedrock of their community when they first resettled and how their relationship with their faith evolved. The second featured an imam, a church elder, and a Buddhist monk discussing how they have supported refugee congregants in their community. From teaching ESL to providing housing to deeply listening, these religious leaders supported refugees practically, socially, and spiritually. The third panel featured three individuals who support refugees after their initial resettlement. They focused on rebuilding families through the strength of faith through counseling, cultural celebrations, and building relationships across religious and ethnic lines.
October 21-22, 2019
The second symposium was held from October 21 - 22, 2019. There were over 40 guests from different states and lines of work invited.
In the second symposium, we maintained a similar structure as the first, but replaced the oral history practicum with additional small and large group discussions. Almost all participants were resettlement office directors from across the country representing five of the nine volags.
The first panel featured refugees from the former Yugoslavia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, two of whom worked for a resettlement agency after arriving in the US. They spoke about their experiences both as refugees and those who help refugees and the importance of their faith in fostering a sense of familiarity and belonging in the US. The second panel featured a Buddhist nun, a church elder and ESL teacher, and an imam. They shared how faith leaders can play a unique role in supporting refugee families spiritually and emotionally and helping to ease generational and interpersonal tension. The third panel featured those who support refugees long-term through private sponsorship, community dinners, and spiritual counseling.