The Importance of Deepening Our Understanding of the Refugee Crisis

As we enter 2017, the world faces a myriad of pressing issues: protecting the environment, expanding and guarding women’s rights, and promoting global peace and security.

Among these issues, the “refugee crisis” grabs headlines. While this crisis may seem removed from our direct lives in the U.S., contained to heartbreaking images of humanity half a world away, it is not so removed. The U.S. resettled nearly 85,000 refugees in the 2016 fiscal year. (U.S. Department of State, 2016.)

On January 27th, 2017, CTAUN’s 18th annual conference, “Refugees: The 21st Century Challenge”, at the UN Headquarters will give us a chance to hear from refugees and learn how we can become involved to help find solutions.

When I reflect on the importance of this conference and the fact that “refugees” was chosen as this year’s focus, I see an important chance to deepen our understanding of the issue, and hopefully, prompt us to work harder for local solutions.

I believe that we, as students, educators, researchers, and policymakers, should actively further our understanding of this global issue for the following reasons:

1.) Gain a better understanding of refugee students’ challenges and experiences within our local communities.

Racism, discrimination, or stigma due to refugees’ religious or cultural differences is reported in numerous studies of refugee educational experiences in the U.S., such as in Haffejee’s 2015 study of African refugee youth experiences in U.S. public schools.

“What are the cross-cultural issues involved in assimilation, and the challenges to host nations?” will be one of the questions discussed at this year’s conference. By understanding and discussing these challenges, we can work to create more inclusive classrooms and local communities.

2.)  Learn how we can help the refugee education crisis at a grassroots level.

The refugee crisis is an unprecedented modern crisis. Not only is it the largest forced displacement of humanity since the UN’s founding, we currently have an entire generation of youth deprived of their education. While it might seem daunting to approach solutions at an individual level, it is not impossible. Learning what initiatives are working and which are not can give us new insight and ideas for future collaborations and initiatives within our local communities.

This year’s conference will discuss some of the current initiatives, with speakers from UNHCR and refugee-focused non-profits.

3.) Promote global awareness within our classrooms and communities.

Why is it important for people to be engaged with issues that are perhaps beyond their immediate community?

Increased cross-cultural understanding and improved global relations are a few reasons. Educators can help students develop “…a global civic identity and understand how their decisions have an impact ranging well beyond their immediate vicinity,” according to former UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon. Bringing the topic of the refugees into the classroom is one way to begin this global engagement and understanding amongst students.

I am continually inspired by the efforts of CTAUN and similar organizations to support teachers in developing their students’ engagement with world issues. Let’s utilize these resources and support networks, and take action to help support refugees within our local communities.

I look forward to joining you at the conference on January 27th! You can RSVP here.



Haffejee, B., (2015). African Refugee Youths’ Stories of Surviving Trauma and Transition in US Public Schools. Journal of Muslim Mental Health, 9  (1). Accessed online:–african-refugee-youths-stories-of-surviving-trauma?rgn=main;view=fulltext

U.S. Department of State, (2016). Fact Sheet: Fiscal Year 2016 Refugee Admissions. Accessed online:


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