AUSTIN (KXAN) — Across the globe people are stepping up efforts to help the millions of people who have fled their homeland.
Monday is World Refugee Day aimed to raise awareness for the millions without homes. According to the United Nations, more than 65 million people left their home country last year.
The UN says conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan pushed the number of displaced people to the highest number since World War II. Half of all refugees come from the Middle East.
The interim Executive Director, Robert Painter, of the local non-profit American Gateways joined us in the KXAN studio to discuss ways you can help.
What is the refugee situation in Central Texas?
“Texas is continuing to welcome a large number of refugees that are formally being resettled into the state from other parts of the world through a U.S. government process,” said Painter. “In the fiscal year 2015 we resettled and welcomed about 7,500 new arrivals in Texas”
The more pressing issue though is taking place on our southern border, according to Painter. Since the summer of 2014, there has been a significant increase in the number of Central Americans arriving and requesting asylum, which is essentially the same thing as refugee status. They are all fleeing violence in armed conflict in their home countries, primarily Guatemala, Salvador, and Honduras.
What services does your group provide to refugees and immigrants?
“We help people who walk into our office who are looking for assistance and actually applying for refugee status,” said Painter. “We provide both workshops and know your rights presentations, so [refugees] can have a better understanding of the immigration process.”
American Gateways works at four different immigration detention centers in the state. The centers are where people who have requested assistance are taken after they are apprehended.
Why is this important?
Before coming to this country a lot of the refugees were doctors, lawyers, dancers, artists or small business owners.
“They’re risk takers, they’ve taken an awful lot of risk to get here and they bring that energy, and those skills and that expertise to bare on behalf of their new home in our community,” said Painter.
How can somebody sign up to help?
If you want to volunteer go to americangateways.org.
Painter said they are always “looking for anybody that wants to help out, if they have language skills or office management skills, we’re looking for professional volunteers as well doctors, lawyers, psychologists anyone who wants to help we can find a place for them.”