Leaders from a nationwide initiative to provide scholarships for refugees pursuing higher education spoke at the Jack Morton Auditorium last week to discuss how to expand access to colleges and universities.
A panel featuring leaders from the Initiative on U.S. Higher Education Pathways for Refugee Students – an effort to establish a pilot program for refugee scholarships across higher education institutions – discussed the financial and legal barriers that refugees face when they’re planning to enroll, like attaining documentation required for admission and how to support refugees on campus. About 60 people attended the event, hosted by No Lost Generation GWU and moderated by Olivia Issa, NLG’s president.
Kyle Farmbry – an alumnus and the director of the University Alliance for Refugees and At-Risk Migrants, a group seeking to aid student refugees and at-risk migrants – said higher education officials must ask how to make institutions more accessible, especially for the refugee student population. He said the initiative has been working to promote planning and programming collaboration among smaller organizations to help refugees access higher education.
He said higher education organizations – like Guilford College’s Every Campus a Refuge Initiative, a non-profit program pushing colleges and universities to host refugees on campus – are searching for policy-based methods to help refugee students who may struggle for the necessary credentials to enter America.
“It’s an issue that I think organizations are talking about and trying to find some creative solutions,” he said.
Farmbry said students who want to be more inclusive of refugees should highlight the positive impact they have on the communities they enter to counter xenophobic narratives directed toward them.
“In many cases, you’re talking about first-generation students who may or may not have had a parent or a sibling who has sort of gone through the college process,” he said. “Just mainly providing a lot of that type of support is critical.”
Rosie Hughes, a refugee education pathways expert at the UN Refugee Agency, said she is collaborating with members of the initiative on an upcoming report that will propose a policy allowing U.S. colleges and universities to nominate overseas refugees for entry into the refugee resettlement pilot program.
She said the report will include recommendations addressing the legal barrier refugees face surrounding the F1 visa – the primary visa refugees use to enter the U.S. as students – and its requirement for recipients like refugees to return to their home countries, regardless of whether it may be in a state of conflict.
“Everybody is looking at the U.S.,” Hughe said. “We have the largest system of colleges and universities in the world, and some of the wealthiest institutions in the world. This is the moment for us, the U.S. higher ed community, to stand up and lead while others are watching.”
Diing Manyang – a senior majoring in systems engineering and the president of Elimisha Kakuma, a national organization helping refugees apply to U.S. colleges – said she grew up in a refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya and struggled to find information on opportunities and institutions outside the camp. She said pursuing higher education is a challenge in Kakuma, home to the world’s largest refugee camp, a population of 250,000 people, two or three high schools and a lack of educational resources.
“As a refugee you are also a person, you don’t want to be limited to the status or the level of being a refugee,” she said. “You are somebody that has a lot of potential, and you can bring it to the campuses where you go to.”
Manyang said refugees struggle to obtain the proper documentation to study in the United States, which requires passports for incoming international students to study in the country. She said although she went back to her home country of South Sudan to attain her passport, refugees can be vulnerable to the dangers that pushed them out of their home countries if they return to retrieve necessary documentation.
She added that Elimisha Kakuma is working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, a UN refugee protection agency, to provide student refugees in the Kakuma camp with convention travel documents, which can substitute for a passport for stateless people struggling to get passports from their home countries.
“Now because you got an opportunity to come for higher education, you are put in a really difficult situation to make a decision,” she said. “It’s either you miss this one-time opportunity or you decide to go back, get that passport and get a visa, which will make it easier.”