Summit: Refugees and Immigrants in the Capital Region: Working Together to Support Newcomers

On Monday, April 30, 2012, the School of Social Welfare at UAlbany and the Albany Field Office of the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI Albany) hosted an all-day Summit entitled Refugees and Immigrants in the Capital Region: Working Together to Support Newcomers. The Summit’s three-fold purpose was to:

    • To learn more about refugees and immigrants – their stories, their strengths and their challenges.
    • To look at the services and resources we have in the Capital Region, and ask the question – are there ways that we can better coordinate and expand what we do, so that we can help to better support and empower our immigrant and refugee neighbors.
    • To explore possible next steps in providing support and empowerment to refugees and immigrants in the Capital Region.

More than 100 people attended the conference from all sectors of the Capital Region. Participants included refugee and immigrant community members, representatives from community-based organizations, educational institutions, health providers, government, faith-based organizations, and the business community, and community volunteers, leaders, and advocates. Elected officials, Dominick Calsolaro, Leah Golby and Barbara Smith, all members of the Albany Common Council also attended the Summit.

Dean Katherine Briar-Lawson, School of Social Welfare, began the morning session with a welcome to all participants. Dr. Blanca Ramos, Associate Professor, School of Social Welfare, presented an Overview of Refugee and Immigrant Issues and Support in the United States, which provided an historical and sociological framework for the Summit. In a brief overview by Jen Barkan, Resource Manager of USCRI Albany, participants learned about the local context of refugee resettlement in the Capital Region since 2005.

Following these presentations, Dr. Ramos moderated a panel discussion of local immigrants and refugees regarding their experiences. This five-member panel represented the full range of refugee and immigrant experiences in our community including refugees officially resettled in this country from Iraq, Burma and Bosnia, an immigrant from Pakistan and Dr. Fred Boehrer, Director of the New Sanctuary for Immigrants of the Capital Region, who spoke about the experiences of undocumented immigrants.

The morning ended with a presentation from Martha Mortensen, MSW student, UAlbany School of Social Welfare regarding the results of her research on Refugee Needs Assessment in the Capital Region. Using a focus group model and interpretative services, Ms. Mortensen asked 65 refugees from various countries about their top priority needs and suggestions for improvements. In addition she surveyed ESOL teachers, volunteer mentors for refugee families and employers regarding their perspectives on how to better support refugees in the Capital Region.

In the afternoon, participants had the option of attending a workshop on immigrant issues or one of five discussion groups on various refugee concerns. Seventeen people attended the workshop, Addressing the Psychosocial and Legal Needs of Immigrant Families, co-led by Dr Ramos and Dr. Boehrer. Each facilitated small discussion group addressed a particular topic of concern as identified by Ms. Mortensen’s Needs Assessment. Topics for these groups were: Health, Employment, Adult ESOL Education, Children/Youth Education (K-12) and Community Engagement. Each group focused on some of the underlying issues or problems that refugees faced, and then brainstormed possible strategies for addressing those issues.

At the end of the day, the participants gathered together to learn more about the results of the small-group discussions. Dahlia Herring, Public Service Professor, School of Social Welfare, and Dr. Anne O’Brien Carelli of Carelli and Associates, summarized some of the major themes that appeared in all of the small group discussions. Ms. Herring completed the day with a Call to Action, urging participants to consider how they might contribute to providing an expanded support network for immigrants and refugees.

The Summit has already spurred action. The Capital Region Refugee Roundtable, a community-based group, has invited all Summit participants to join the Roundtable and its five new Action Teams. Using the results of the Summit's small group discussions as a beginning platform, the Refugee Roundtable Teams will develop and implement Action Plans to begin to address priority issues and concerns identified in the Summit.

Summit Organizers:

The University at Albany School of Social Welfare prepares social work leaders at the undergraduate, graduate and doctoral levels. Top-ranked faculty foster innovative educational approaches, knowledge development, research and evidence-based social work practices with a global perspective. As a recognized national and international leader in developing innovative programs, along with facilitating public-private partnerships, the School collaborates with community organizations to advance improved outcomes for the most vulnerable, oppressed and marginalized including refugees and immigrants.

Learn more: - 518-442-5320 -

The Albany Field Office of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI Albany) is a nonprofit organization that has been helping refugees from all over the world start new lives in the Capital Region since 2005. USCRI Albany provides case management services focused on basic needs, job placement, and removing barriers to self-sufficiency for these new Americans. The agency is also an accredited provider of Immigration Services, including processing green card and citizenship applications.

Learn more: - 518-459-1790 -