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The immense job of helping refugees settle into new homes

Volunteers from the Mali and Burkina Faso Red Cross are preparing the camps to host the refugees coming from Mali. (Red Cross)

With more than 65 million people are displaced globally – the most there have been since World War II – the global refugee crisis has captured the attention of aid groups and political leaders worldwide. Efforts to address the humanitarian problem have been made on both local and international levels, leading to the global refugee summit at the United Nations in New York last month.

The first agency to respond to the refugee crisis was the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Founded at the end of WWII, the IRC is one of the oldest refugee aid organization around, now working in more than 40 countries and 22 U.S. cities where it resettles refugees and helps them become self-sufficient.

Last year, the IRC’s response to the current crisis benefited some 23 million people through efforts such as providing clean water and sanitation to new refugee arrivals on the Greek island of Lesvos and helping refugees understand their legal rights as they search for a safe haven. Still, tens of millions are on the run, stranded at closed borders or living in dismal conditions in temporary refugee camps. With no job opportunities or way of resettling, many of these people have little choice but to wait on the world’s wealthier governments to agree to take their fair share of refugees.

One of these governments is that of the U.S., which took in 85,000 refugees this fiscal year. In comparison, Lebanon, with a population of just over 4 million people, has taken in 1.2 million refugees from Syria alone. At the U.N. refugee summit, the U.S. pledged to accept 110,000 refugees in the next fiscal year (which started Oct. 1), but refugee advocates are still pushing for more.

nicky_smithIn today’s podcast we interview Nicky Smith, executive director of IRC Seattle, a longtime advocate who has responded as an aid worker to the Rwandan Genocide, the Liberian Civil Wars, and worked in Afghanistan during Taliban rule. She’s now working to heighten the profile of IRC’s work in the greater Seattle area and raise funds to provide better services to resettled refugees. These refugees face immense challenges even after obtaining asylum in the U.S., Smith explains, as they adjust to a completely unfamiliar city and culture.

“If there’s one thing for people to appreciate, it’s that these are families that are grateful to the chance to rebuild their lives here in the U.S. and are looking forward to becoming Americans,” Smith said.

As always, before the interview, Tom Paulson talks with podcast producer and social media manager Imana Gunawan about some of the top stories in the Humanosphere, including the U.N. selecting another European man – former Portuguese Prime Minister António Guterres – as the next secretary-general, and a new UNESCO report emphasizing the need for more teachers. We also highlight Paulson’s story on the precarious relationship between the decline of extreme poverty and increase in wealth inequality worldwide.

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About Author

Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Madrid-based reporter for Humanosphere, covering gender equality, indigenous rights and poverty in Latin America and worldwide. Find her on Twitter at @lisanikolau, email or see her latest work at