Maximizing the Engagement of Diasporas in Refugee Resettlement

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Maximizing the Engagement of Diasporas in Refugee Resettlement

Below is a list of questions to serve as a starting framework for the discussion in this thread:

  • What can diaspora groups do to contribute and galvanize support for refugees?
  • How to prevent or reduce the potential practice of marginalization by host societies?
  • What are the obstacles faced by diaspora groups in providing support for refugee resettlement?
  • What role do diaspora play in cooperating with policymakers in both sending and receiving countries?
  • What role do/should governments play in supporting diaspora’s efforts?
  • Share stories of success of diaspora resettling refugees. 
Syrian Community Network - success story

One success story is the Syrian Community Network, who's director is also a discussion leader for this conversation.  The Syrian Community Network was created grew over the last few years to help with the needs of resettled Syrian refugees in the Chicago area and has been a great resource with speakers and information helpful with national advocacy work for refugee protection and resettlement.  Check it out:

What can diaspora groups do to contribute and galvanize support?

No question that Diaspora groups can play an important role in regards to refugees. However, the roles might be positive, negative, or, like most of the cases, a mix of both. The definition for diaspora is not one, and many scholars believe the term more political than anything else. Nonetheless, what the overwhelming majority of scholars agree to is that diaspora groups are never homogenous.

With this in mind, there are no real boundaries for diaspora members. Instead, the boundaries are for the NGOs and other forms of organizations established by diaspora members. Each NGO or organization has its own mission and vision. In other words, they define "home" and "refugees" in their own way. One thing we know, that there is no correct answer to "What and where is home?"

So how do we define what is the "good" support for refugees? Is it by helping them to settle in their new "home"? e.g.
Or is it by helping them go back to their country of origin by advocating to stop the reason (war for example in Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan)? or is it by addressing the boundaries that might prevent them from becoming members of the host societies?

What do you think?

Community Organizations!

Thank you Shaina for sharing about SCN. We now have two active chapters - SAN Diego and Phoenix. A few other cities are interested as well. 

I wanted to add that in Chicago we have many ethnic based refugee support organizations such as the Viatnames Association of Illinois, the Iraqi Mutual aid Society and many others who do a great job at supporting their populations and serving other refugeee groups as well. Chicago is a prime example of a city that has strong diaspora groups supporting their clients while keeping cultural ties to their homeland. Go Cubs! :) 


Great share Suzanne!
How do you manage the "integration" and the "social ties to a homeland" at SCN? What/how do you provide for Syrian refugees in these two areas? and how do you handle the political affiliations for the newly comers?

Hi Ashraf:

Hi Ashraf:

great question! Since the Syrian refugees are such recent arrivals, many still feel a strong connection to their home country and/or host country. They always say "God willing we will go back" this sentiment is very understandable since the crisis is ongoing and many have large members of extended families in and around Syria. We tread lightly around this topic since they are so new to the US, and we noticed when we did talk about the US being their home now, they become emotional.  What we try to do is connect the new arrivals with the pre existing community for integration and to make new friends through fun events like a picnic, a women's event and other fun things. We also participate in Chicago activities such as the Chicago Marathon - we had some of the refugees run with Team SCN,  we participate in World Refugee Day, we take them to inter faith events, and ThanksGiving is coming and we tell them this is an American tradition and many will want to invite you. We already have two groups looking to invite the families for Thanksgiving. The best way right  now with the families being so new to the country,  is to just include them in as many events as possible to make their integration a little easier one event/activity at a time. 


For some populations, going

For some populations, going back is not an option, so they focus on the integration, well-being, and success of their community, in addition to maintaining their cultural heritage.  One examples is the Bhutanese Community of New Hampshire. They provide an array of community services, including critical mental health services within a population that has a higher than average suicide rate.  Check them out:

What role do diaspora play in cooperating with policymakers

Thanks ShainaRCUSA & Suzanne!

On this question: What role do diaspora play in cooperating with policymakers especially in sending countries?

The literature on diaspora claims that: Diaspora members can employ influence on their countries of origin (Sending countries) through many channels[1]. For policy interests, diasporas contribute to their countries of origin in four critical areas [2], namely: Remittances, political involvement, and civic-oriented engagement to their countries of origin, as well as political lobbying in their host countries [2] [3].

In here I want to focus more on the second policy area, which covers the political involvement of the diasporic communities in their countries of origin. Because most of the conflict-generated diasporas left their countries of origin as a result of political problems and very often later civil wars, they are more likely become involved though political channels [2]. Political involvement is a double-edged process with both positive and negative effects for states and people. On the positive side, diasporas are diverse, and they bring this diversity to the political life of their countries of origin during the post-conflict period (Ibid.). By transferring political ideas, contributing to peace dialogues, and providing their experiences and advice to their origin countries. This is how these diasporas contribute to the restoration of political and civil institutions shattered by conflict (Ibid.). Nevertheless, some diasporas will seek to support the conflict as a solution to political problems (Ibid.).  In doing so they provide financial resources as well as networks and war materials to armed groups. These actions are more damaging because this type of support helps factional leaders and warlords dominate the domestic politics as such actions prevent an alternative non-violent political leadership from emerging in these countries (Ibid.).

How do we in our day to day work with refugees, contribute and galvanize support for them while applying "do-no-harm" to the people still in the home country, Syria for example?



1- Fransen, S. & Siegel, M., 2016. Diaspora Engagement Policies after Conflict: Burundi and Rwanda.. In: D. J. Besharov & M. H. Lopez, eds. Adjusting to a World in Motion: Trends in Global Migration and Migration Policy. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 373-389.

2- Mohamoud, A. A., 2006. African Diaspora and Post-Conflict: Reconstruction in Africa, Copenhagen: DANISH INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL STUDIES.

3- Turner, M., 2008. Three Discourses on Diaspora and Peacebuilding. In: M. Pugh, N. Cooper & M. Turner, eds. Whose Peace? Critical Perspectives on the Political Economy of Peacebuilding. s.l.:PALGRAVE MACMILLAN, pp. 173-190.


Obstacles faced by diaspora groups in providing support

It's great to see the conversation that has taken place so far! I think it is very important to consider the role of diasporas in the refugee resettlement process. They can be a valuable asset, but I believe the way things are in host societies can make things particularly difficult. As such, I'd like to address the question of what obstacles diaspora groups might face. 

Before answering, I must point out that the question of what even is a diaspora is one that makes it difficult to answer. A few other people have alluded to this term having a variety of meanings. For my understanding, I would consider anybody from that country of origin who is in a different country part of the diaspora. So this would include refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants, and the children of any of these groups that might have been born here.

That being said, with how extensive the diaspora community is, I think that the biggest obstacle is diaspora groups not knowing how they can be involved advocacy-wise. From the US perspective, a huge part of resettlement or emigration is assimilation. The goal is to try to become as a American as possible to embrace the new home. I think that this poses an issue because it makes those in various diaspora communities feel that they cannot engage in conversations related to their country of origin. I believe that these communities should be at the forefront of conversations about refugee-related issues and policies. 

A lot of times though once they're in the US, they are not really given that same access to advocacy that natural born American citizens might have. I think that is something that could change within the resettlement process. I know that there are a number of great organizations across the country that work to teach civic engagement to refugees that are already here, but I think it could be taught from a perspective of something that can make things better for their communities. Because on the scale of everything that must be adjusted to in the resettlement process, I am not sure that speaking out on behalf of other refugees would be on the top of their list. We just have to work to remind them that despite how American-based refugee conversations seem to be, it is still about those communities themselves. 

Great observations! Bethechange22

I agree with many of your observations. But what concerns me in general (not in what you said) is sometimes the absence of boundaries. So I am going to try and counter argue few of your points for the purpose of diving deeper.

In your first point "I would consider anybody from that country of origin who is in a different country part of the diaspora." For how many generations? 1, 2, 3, or more? When do we stop using the label diaspora on a person? Who decides that? The communities themselves or the host communities? Also "The goal is to try to become as American as possible to embrace the new home" What is American? This could be defined by the diaspora group themselves, an NGO, a presidential candidate (e.g. Trump Vs Clinton's America), anyone really.

Lastly, on the point of speaking about refugees. Many scholars today refuse this approach. The reason is that they believe speaking in the name of refugees (especially as International NGOs, Governments, organizations who do not have refugees in their constituency) simply took the agency away from the refugees and portrayed them as victims. However, the worst is that the counter argument against victims is Threats. So now you have everyone against refugees argue that they are a security threat, someone among them might be, terrorists are using them on purpose, etc.

How do we challenge this?

Interacting with Policymakers in the US

One example of refugees making their voices heard and interacting with policymakers is with the Refugee Congress.  Initiated by UNHCR, the Refugee Congress is "an advocacy and advisory organization comprised of refugees, asylum-seekers, and stateless persons from across the U.S. who seek to champion domestic and international refugee issues."  They receive training and speak out for their communities and advoate on critical issues locally and in DC.  Learn more about the Refugee Congress at


Advocacy and Engagement

Great information, observations and insight, Ashraf, Shaina, Suzanne and Bethechange22!

EMBARC has launched a program that touches upon several of the questions posed by BJensen, our moderator. Allison Wall, our RefugeeRISE AmeriCorps member and Communication's Coordinator explains below:


In this current political climate, contributing to and galvanizing support for refugees is crucial. For EMBARC, the only NGO in Iowa founded and led by refugees, our goal is to not only give support to our community members and help them overcome barriers, but it is to bring awareness and gain support for them too.

One way EMBARC has done this is by partnering with AmeriCorps to create RefugeeRISE. AmeriCorps RefugeeRISE provides services, increases accessibility to existing resources, and improves workplace readiness and job training for refugees. The AmeriCorps RefugeeRISE program pairs a native English speaking member with a member of refugee status, and together they focus on building workforce skills and achieving education goals for themselves, and for the refugee community. The members not only get to help empower the refugees in their communities through training, workshops, outreach and direct services, they also have the opportunity to gain important skills to help them in their future, professional careers.

The support for the bill to appropriate funds to expand the AmeriCorps RefugeeRISE program was encouraging. Letters poured into the Statehouse, and many people took the time to show up in support of the inaugural Refugee Day on the Hill. This was a huge win for the state of Iowa because the Iowa legislature passed the only refugee-supportive legislation in the United States this year. EMBARC and AmeriCorps have created a program that not only helps the refugees we are aiming to serve, but helps change the conversation in support of refugees throughout the greater community of Iowa. Sharing success stories on social media, in newsletters, and the platform we have as an organization is a huge way to get the narrative of refugees changed to gain support for them. Also, implementing programs that help change how refugees are seen and getting them more involved in the community are ways to gain support.

More insights into the structure

Great share Henny!

Would you be able to give more insights on the structure of EMBARC?

You mentioned they are founded and led by refugees. How did that happen? What leadership model do they have? How do they invite new refugees to join them? Can you share more please?

Thanks again!


about EMBARC

Hi Ashraf, 

Thank you for your questions!  Sorry for the delayed response.  U.S. post election shock and sadness.  

In 2011 leaders/doers from four different ethnic groups from Burma and I (a Korean-American 1.5 immgrant) came together because the recently resettled burma refugee communtiy were in crisis--basic needs, such as adequate food, shelter, clothing were not being met.  We learned that ethnic community based organizations or mutual aid associations in other states were leading human service and advocacy efforts. We reached out to the Karen Organization of Minnesota and Karen Organization of San Diego and they made time to talk to us and provide guidance.  These organizations shared that they got their seed funding from the Office of Refugee Resettlement's (ORR) Ethnic Community Self-Help Grant.  Our goal was to get that grant. And we worked and worked until we got it in 2013.  We are forever thankful to ORR for giving us a chance. 

We have a learning co-board model which pairs burma members with native english language speaking members to leverage each others strengths and grow as a team.  Since the Burma community is comprised of many ethnic groups with multiple mutually unintelligible languages, we are always seeking ways to engage and be inclusive.  We are currently considering an advisory commmitee model so the different ethnic groups/faiths can participate in the process in their own language. We are exploring a individual and/or institutional member advocacy model, as well.  Hopefully, lessons learned and structures developed can be expand this to include refugees from other countries. 






Thanks alot!

Thanks Henny for sharing this! This is a great success story on how and why to be inclusive in working with refugees.

The post-election shock was felt all over the world! This, I believe, should be the wake-up call for genuine leaders and people to "Recognize, acknowledge,  grieve a terrible loss then do what we have to do to organize."

What role do/should governments play?

What role do/should governments play in supporting diaspora’s efforts? With the focus on sending states or home states

Governments of home countries could see their diasporas from three different angles: as development agents, as security risks, or as partners in post-conflict peacebuilding [1]. Governments who actively seek engagement see diasporas as being important transnational actors, holding various relations to both original and host countries (Ibid.) or as promoters for post-conflict peacebuilding (Ibid.). To the last point, it is important to mention two things. First, that In this approach, peacebuilding is not seen as a neutral process nor technical. But, an attempt “to bring war-shattered state into conformity with the international system’s prevailing standards of domestic governance, or standards that define how states should organize themselves internally” (Paris, 2002, p. 638). Second, that clearly not all diaspora or refugees are conflict-generated refugees.

Moreover, governments adopt different approaches to engage with their diaspora members, with different priorities depending upon their needs and capacities [2] Generally, the roadmap for creating successful diaspora engagement policies consist of four main steps  [3]. The first is to identify goals and capacities: what does the country need, what can a diaspora policy accomplish, what capacity exists, and how this capacity linked to the overall context of the country? The second step is to “know your diaspora,” where they are, what their capacities are, and what are their desires to contribute to their countries. The third is to “build trust” between the government and the diaspora to, ultimately, “mobilize diaspora for development’ and to put the policy into practice [3].

Do you have any examples of home states who did this? As organizations, how would you see the process?



1- Turner, M., 2008. Three Discourses on Diaspora and Peacebuilding. In: M. Pugh, N. Cooper & M. Turner, eds. Whose Peace? Critical Perspectives on the Political Economy of Peacebuilding. s.l.:PALGRAVE MACMILLAN, pp. 173-190.

2- Newland, K. & Patrick, E., 2004. Beyond Remittances: The Role of Diaspora in Poverty Reduction in their Countries of Origin, Washington: Migration Policy Institute.

3- Agunias, D. R. & Newland, K., 2012. Developing a Road Map for Engaging Diasporas in Development: A Handbook for Policymakers and Practitioners in Home and Host Countries. Switzerland and Washington: International Organization for Migration and Migration Policy Institute.

What role do/should governments play?

Hi Ashraf,

Thank you for your question. You make a good point by separately discussing the different roles of governments of home countries and government of host countries. Some countries of origins currently begin to recognize the importance of Diaspora and generate the policy to welcome them as financial flows, economic opportunities, technology transfer, progressive attitudes, etc.. Admittedly, this most of the times only applies to the countries that have been resumed economic and politic stability, but their experience can guide other home states in a long run.

One of the sources that you used provides some good examples.

Today, there are about 35 million overseas Chinese existing in virtually every country in the world. They are still augmented by new arrivals not only from the southern coast, but from major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. The government of the People Republic of China has actively maintained a sense of Chinese identity among overseas communities of emigrants and their descendants. Culturally, overseas Chinese museum have been built. Economically, China attracts investment from the Diaspore by emphasizing patriotic feelings while offering generous investment packages to overseas Chinese. The government also simplifies the process and regulation of investment and made concessions in taxes for Taiwanese investors.

In the past decades, India has also followed a multi-prong strategy, pursuing portfolio investment, direct investment, technology transfer and trade links through the Diaspora. Culturally the Indian government works to strengthen the Diaspora’s “pride and faith” in its heritage”. The major Indian Diaspora conference is celebrated each year. However, the programs involving Diaspora groups have been hard to implement sometimes because of the procedural delays and corruption in India.  Therefore, several reforms and new legislation have been taken place to help measure the investment in India from oversea and other things.

Erithrean pays great attention to an exceptionally close integration of an overseas population in the political and economic life of its country of origin. Because of the struggle for independence from Ethiopia, over one million of the Eritrean population lives outside the country. Politically, Eritrean citizenship was extended to members of the Diasporas wherever they lived and regardless of their legal status in the host country. The NGO that works with this group raised money from expatriates, organized lobbying efforts directed at host governments and societies, and solicited donations from host-country NGOs for relief work.

Does anyone have any examples of home countries which are still in an instable condition (war, protest, independence) but successfully integrate and work with Diaspora culturally, politically and economically? 

More Engagement Insights

The mainstream community need to engage with the refugee community in an accessible, meaningful way.  One way EMBARC does this is by going to where they are. We hold “learning circles” in the homes of refugees and hold ESL classes at the churches they go to. We don’t send surveys or send flyers to come to a location they’ve never been to.


If we want to change policy to be more supportive of refugees, refugees need to be part of the process. They need to be the share stories and provide solutions.  


For example, we had some families living in the same apartment complex whose children were missing school.  These children didn’t qualify for bus transportation, the parents didn’t have cars, and Iowa’s winters are too cold for walking.


The refugee families went to a school board meeting to share their stories. The board heard them and amended the bus policy.  The refugee community were part of making change happen.