Written by Alyssa Walker

It's World Refugee Day. Held every year on June 20, today is a day to "commemorate the strength, courage and perseverance of millions of refugees." According to the UN's website, "World Refugee Day also marks a key moment for the public to show support for families forced to flee." With refugee and asylum-seeker crises at the forefront of global socio-political attentions, it's even more important to take this year's World Refugee Day to find constructive ways to help and support displaced people.

Do you want to be a part of the solution? Here are four fields of study that will get you there:

1. Law

Refugees and asylum seekers have complex narratives and need to navigate even more complex legal systems as they move and re-settle their lives.

There's the interplay among humanitarian and human rights law, international and domestic systems, migration and immigration laws, and figuring out how to garner the best possible outcome for people to live their lives. 

Law offers one of the most direct routes to improving the lives of refugees. Refugee law looks specifically at how the international community defines refugees and asylum seekers. 

Those who study refugee law can work for small and large organizations including the United Nations, NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and can also work as refugee experts in the field. Students interested in this field of law can consider programs like the LLM in Migration Law and Policy or Master in Law: International Migrations and Refugee Law.

Learn more about law studies. 

2. Medicine

Lebanon, currently hosting an influx of Syrian refugees from the 2011 uprising, is facing a humanitarian health crisis. There aren't enough healthcare workers to meet the demands of an ever-shifting population of refugees in Lebanon.

Lebanon isn't alone. Refugees around the world do not have access to the healthcare that they need. 

Getting a job as a healthcare worker for refugees isn't easy. Every country has different requirements, rules, education, training, and licensure procedures. 

Some countries, though, are making it easier for healthcare workers to help refugees, by hiring the refugees themselves.

According to a 2017 Brookings Institute report, Sweden created a fast-track program designed to help immigrants expedite the process of finding jobs. It's for those who already have a Swedish residency permit, related work experience, or education in an area with a labor shortage--specifically health-related. 

Scotland also has a program for Syrian doctors who are also refugees to begin working vacancies for the National Health Service (NHS).

Learn more about health studies.

3. Languages

Of all the fields, languages are the key to helping refugees and asylum seekers.  On the front line, translators serve to communicate vital information, relay individual stories and ease the process of seeking asylum.  Organizations like Translators Without Borders work both to assist communication efforts and advocate for the rights of people involved in humanitarian crises.

Once refugees' urgent translation needs are met, their language needs shift from translation to active learning.  Learning the language of their host country is the key to success for many refugee families and often overlooked. 

In the UK, there's a rising demand for English teachers to help the refugee population settle. Without English skills, many refugees--especially women--find it difficult to interact outside their homes, feel socially isolated, and find it difficult if not impossible to find employment.

In other countries, there is also high demand for English instruction. In many resettlement programs, refugees from all over the world wind up in small, provincial towns, some of which even have local dialects. Not knowing the language can make it impossible for refugees to integrate. 

Students range in age from children to adults, all with varying levels of prior education.

Language instructors see themselves as a bridge between cultures--and a necessary one. Many language courses are taught by volunteers who have the willingness--and the patience--to help others. And with ongoing migrant and refugee crises around the world, more students are seeking specialized qualifications like the Language Education for Refugees and Migrants Program offered by the Hellenic Open University.

Learn more about language studies. 

4. Psychology and mental health 

Refugees deal with trauma. In addition to fleeing their homes, traveling in often unsafe conditions for months at a time, and going through a resettlement process, refugees have more than just their physical health to consider.

Not only are their journeys unsafe, what they fled was equally traumatic.

Grigoris Kavarnos, a clinical psychologist who treats refugees and migrants on Lesbos with Doctors Without Borders (MSF) told ABC News in March 2018 that "If a person has left the country because, for example, they were jailed and tortured and then during their journey they get mistreated by smugglers or the authorities in the countries of transit and then they’re forced to live under conditions reminiscent of jails here in Greece, under really shocking conditions; you can imagine that by the time they come to me for help their condition is completely awful.”

Many NGOs have mental health services that work not only to help the refugee population acclimate to their situations, but also to destigmatize mental health services in general. 

Learn more about mental health.

5. Social Work 

Social workers play an important role in managing and serving refugees and asylum seekers, and according to the Guardian, "social work presence is vital" in both the countries accepting migrants and those the migrants are leaving. Social workers advocate for the resource needs of displaced people, provide emotional and psychological support, and assist the integration process in host countries. In Norway, social workers and community educators work with immigrants and refugees from at-risk regions, providing social and cultural education and counseling new arrivals on assault and abuse.

In countries where migrants and refugees face negative public opinion, social workers - often working in a volunteer capacity - serve as advocates for the rights of displaced people. And in countries like Germany, where public policy supports refugees and migrants, social workers are the first point of contact for new arrivals.  

Social workers that serve migrants and asylum seekers face a unique set of challenges.  In countries like the US, social workers need to understand immigration policies, and work to balance the demands of government, human rights, and the best-practice recommendations of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). They can also be a force for social and political change, urging for policies that adhere to professional standards and using their skills to support volunteer organizations and social movements working to protect and serve refugees and migrants.

As of 2018, the only continent on earth not facing issues related to displaced populations and conflict-driven migrations is Antarctica. This means a growing demand for skilled social workers, well-versed in the nuances of refuge and asylum. Programs like the Master of Arts in International Social Work with Refugees and Migrants, the MA in Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies, and the MSc in Refugee Studies provide valuable and interdisciplinary experience for individuals wishing to develop careers in the field. 

Read more about social work careers.






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Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.
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