– by Faith Potter
Did you know that there are about 79.5 million displaced people around the world with 26 million of them being refugees trying to flee daily discrimination? The World Affairs Council of Houston had the pleasure of interviewing Mariel Sanchez from PAIR Houston, a company that empowers youth refugees on navigating American society. During this seminar, you will learn the difference between a refugee and an asylum seeker, the problems that refugees are currently facing in the midst of the pandemic, the difference between the Trump administration and the Biden administration on the topic of refugees, and what we can do as a society to help and guide refugees in America and around the world.
An important differentiation that Mariel Sanchez touches on is the comparison and contrast between a refugee and an asylum seeker. Anyone can be an asylum seeker. If you are a citizen of the United States and want to flee the United States to go to Canada due to an unhealthy situation of any kind, you are considered an asylum seeker. In addition, Sanchez states
that those at the southern border are also asylum seekers. A refugee on the other hand, cannot just be anyone. A refugee is someone who has applied for resettlement, gone through various interviews, filled out numerous amounts of paperwork, and has gone through a thorough background check. Once they have done all of the steps listed, they are granted the term of “refugee” and are able to take advantage of resettlement. However, in order to apply to be a refugee, you have to show that you are being discriminated against whether that be racially, culturally, or because of your gender. Unfortunately, those in Africa that are suffering from climate change or citizens in South America wanting to escape the surrounding criminal activity are not considered in the discrimination qualifications to apply to be a refugee.
Both COVID-19 and the Trump administration have not favored the millions of refugees wanting to come to the United States for safety. Due to COVID-19 and the travel ban, many refugees who were moving to the United States had to be put on hold due to health concerns amidst the pandemic. In addition, the Trump Administration lowered the total amount of refugees allowed in the United States annually during his presidential term, which made it even harder for refugees to come into the United States. Mariel Sanchez states that she sees promising changes within the Biden administration for refugees. Sanchez states that she believes that his administration will increase the amount of refugees allowed in the United States and assist them in resettlement during the pandemic.
Later on in the seminar, Mariel Sanchez speaks on refugees in Texas and Houston. If you’ve ever lived in Texas, specifically Houston, you know that one of the reasons that makes it so welcoming is due to the amount of diversity. Houston has become a very popular city for refugees to resettle. In fact, the majority of refugees are placed in Houston due to the low cost of living, high employment numbers, the amazing medical center, and the amount of resources for refugees. Houston has resources put in place such as refugee agencies and refugee employment offices to assist in the refugees transition into America. However, due to COVID-19, many of those infrastructures have shut down for the time being, making the way of living for a new refugee in America extremely difficult. So, what can we do as citizens of Houston to welcome and guide these new refugees?
Mariel Sanchez states that there are three things you can do to help refugees during COVID-19. The first being to educate yourself. Many refugees come into a new city and are discriminated against, whether that be a Muslim being made fun of for wearing her hijab, an African-Aamerican citizen being discriminated against or suffering from police brutality, or kids at school being bullied due to a significant language barrier. Sanchez states that the more you immerse and educate yourself on where these refugees have come from and what they have gone through to get to where they are, the more society will slowly rid of the stigma that goes with being a refugee and will rid of discrimination alltogether. Secondly, volunteer at your local refugee agencies. By understanding the process that they have to go through, you will overtime, gain an immense respect for refugees and the amount they have to go through to escape discrimination. Also, agencies are usually flooded with applications and paperwork, so by volunteering and helping the companies and agents with their issues, you’re helping one more refugee get resettled peacefully. Finally, use your voice! By doing your research and volunteering at refugee agencies and nonprofits, you are able to take what you have learned and share it with others.
Thank you to Mariel Sanchez for speaking on such a pressing topic that needs more attention within society. If you would like to get involved or give financially, please go to PearHouston.org for more information.