College Town: Worcester Students Advocate for Refugees

August 27, 2017
Telegram and Gazette
 
"Oct. 1 is an important date for some area university students building a campus campaign around the global refugee crisis.
 
This is the date on which President Donald J. Trump decides how many refugees will be permitted into the U.S. for the new fiscal year. A decision that the students are hoping to influence.
 
Worcester State University student Prakhyat Sunuwar and College of the Holy Cross student Sahra Hassan are members of Oxfam America’s CHANGE program, which provides leadership and advocacy training to university students to help them promote social change locally and globally.
 
Ms. Hassan and Mr. Sunuwar attended a week-long training session in Boston in July with a group of 30 to 40 student leaders, at which they learned how to transform their passion for issues such as world hunger, immigration and the refugee crisis into meaningful action on their campus and in their communities.
 
Mr. Sunuwar, who came to the U.S. from Nepal five years ago, became interested in the challenges facing refugees through an internship at Lutheran Social Services of New England, now known as Ascentria Care Alliance.
 
'My dad works there so I thought it would be easy,' Mr. Sunuwar said, adding that, once involved, he found himself becoming really interested in the plight of refugees.
 
Videos shown at the CHANGE training of personal stories of refugees just increased his desire to help.
 
'The one that stood out to me was the testimony of a refugee teacher and his students. He talks about one of his students in whom he saw a lot of potential, and how he pushed his parents to get him to a proper school even though it meant going through several checkpoints and security checks. Later on, the teacher found out that the student had become the top student in his region,' Mr. Sunuwar said, adding that other students and teachers have the potential to make the world a better place in which to live, if given the opportunity.
 
'This is one of the reasons why the United States of America should help out the refugees because we are capable of providing these opportunities,' Mr. Sunuwar said.
 
Ms. Hassan, who is from Hargeisa, Somaliland, is interested in the refugee crisis because of her background in Somalia. 'It could have been me. What if I was forced to move out of my country?' she said.
 
While they have committed to a year of carrying out Oxfam’s campaigns on their campuses, some items need immediate attention. Both Ms. Hassan and Mr. Sunuwar plan to circulate petitions on their campuses to increase the number of refugees that are allowed entry into this country from 50,000 to 75,000.
 
Lisa Brennan, director of the Services for New Americans program at Ascentria, said, 'It is a very reasonable and excellent point to advocate.'
 
Ascentria, one of three agencies in the area that help resettle refugees, 'is paid a $2,000 resettlement fee by the federal government for each refugee arrival, which goes toward resettlement costs such as housing,' Ms. Brennan said, adding that a common misconception about refugees coming to this country is the idea that resettlement agencies make money through the process.
 
Other common fallacies are that refugees may be terrorists or are a drain on the economy.
 
Quite the opposite is true, refugees are often fleeing conflict caused by terrorists and they have to undergo a rigorous vetting process before they even get to the United States.
 
'Refugees arrive at the airport fully authorized to be here and to work if able,' Ms. Brennan said, adding that placement with a local sponsoring agency is made through a connection with one of nine national voluntary agencies."

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