World Refugee Day: Embassy Bern’s Programs to Support Refugees and Integration

Nikki Haley at Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan

Today on June 20, 2017 the U.S. Embassy Bern commemorates World Refugee Day by recognizing the unique challenges refugees and displaced persons face, their resilience and courage in the face of chilling hardships, and the many invaluable contributions they have made to our Nation and others alike.

Photo caption: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, visiting Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan.

U.S. Humanitarian Leadership

Both as the largest provider of humanitarian assistance worldwide and with a long history of humanitarian leadership, the United States is committed to ensuring stability, safety, and opportunity for refugees and displaced persons. The U.S. leads life-saving security and assistance programs like children’s- and women’s protection programs and empowerment projects; food, shelter, education, healthcare services, and access to clean water via U.S. agencies like USAID and the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM). Official U.S. humanitarian assistance totaled more than $7 billion in fiscal year 2016, reaching some four million people in Syria alone.

The U.S. also works in partnership with the international community and countless dedicated civil society organizations by providing support to and helping finance cross-border aid and assistance programs. It is the largest single donor to the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), as well as bodies such as the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) along with many others.

A global response is critical for sustainably assisting the over 21 million refugees and 40 million internally displaced persons estimated today- a great majority of whom are vulnerable children, families, and lone individuals displaced by violence and crises worldwide. The United States today emphasizes the continuing importance of global humanitarian efforts in supporting refugees and other vulnerable populations overseas through our vital humanitarian assistance.

The U.S. Embassy Bern is working to uphold these principles and the values of the American public in its efforts to engage with those in our local community, and advocate on behalf of refugees and vulnerable persons worldwide.

Lebanese-American artist Helen Zughaib at a workshop with asylum seekers in Lyss.

The Embassy coordinates exchange programs to identify emerging leaders helping refugees and vulnerable persons , working to further develop the capacities of both American and Swiss organizations. It also engages directly with refugees and asylum seekers through targeted programming and supporting skill development by innovative social entrepreneurs.

Some of Embassy Bern’s most recent activities include:

  • A Swiss participant in the State Department’s Young Transatlantic Innovation Leaders Initiative (YTILI) 2016 – Christian Hirsig – established Powercoders, a computer coding skills development and training program for refugees, shortly following his return to Switzerland. The program has gathered over $350,000 in corporate support plus in-kind contributions in the form of mentoring and internship placements. The first cohort of refugees from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Tibet, Eritrea, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, and Russia (Chechnya) graduated in April 2017 and has progressed into internships at Swiss companies.
  • The U.S. Embassy Bern hosted Lebanese-American artist Helen Zughaib in June,who held workshops at a transit center for asylum-seekers in Lyss and a class of students with migrant and refugee familial backgrounds in Bümpliz. Helen’s work focuses on bridging cultures and promotes mutual understanding, acceptance, and respect through art. The participants readily shared their own stories, impressing all with the depth of their thoughts, their candor and sincerity, and exemplifying those values Zughaib advocates through her work.
  • American Fulbright Specialist Prof. Adam Brown will aid the Inselspital in research on migrant and refugee health, particularly mental health disorders, between July and August 2017.
  • Jonas Beer, the co-founder of In Limbo, will attend a State Department International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) focusing on social entrepreneurship. In Limbo aids the integration process by helping to prepare and educate asylum-seekers to work or start their own companies in Switzerland while they await approval of their asylum requests. In coordination with the Swiss government, the concept will be applied to seven asylum centers around Bern in summer 2017.
  • As part of the State Department’s Minority Outreach Incentive Program (MOIP), U.S. Embassy Bern will this year send a group of five Swiss representatives from government, NGOs, volunteer groups, and former refugees on a tour of the United States. The focus of their tour will be on refugee integration, specifically sustainable volunteerism and community engagement, and how to transfer U.S. best practices through building strong public-private partnerships, responding to the specific needs of refugees, and implementing strategies for active, stable volunteer bases and community support.