Minnesota Nice: Focus on Welcoming Refugees at Statewide Meeting

By Elizabeth Mandelman, Associate Director of Advocacy

Minnesota Nice: Focus on Welcoming Refugees at Statewide Meeting

Participants at the TLC statewide meeting work to build support for resettlement in Minnesota and increase welcome for refugees in their communities, October 13, 2015.

(Liza Lieberman/HIAS)

Launched in July 2013, The Linking Communities Project: Creating Welcome for Refugees is a laboratory for developing innovative ideas to help educate communities about the many benefits of refugee resettlement. It is also a model for local action guided by nationally coordinated training and support.

In the project’s first two years, organizations in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Northern Texas and North Carolina were invited to submit grant proposals for local and statewide projects to increase the visibility and benefits of refugee resettlement and help increase welcome for refugees in their community.

This year, TLC chose to work in Minnesota based on the state’s rich history of welcoming refugees. The meeting came at an especially important moment, as there has been heightened rhetoric against refugee resettlement recently, particularly against refugees who are Muslim.

TLC held its fifth statewide meeting in October, convening refugee service providers, advocates, activists and other stakeholders who are working in Minnesota to build support for resettlement and to increase welcome for refugees in their communities. 

The day-long meeting, held at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs on October 13, included sessions on coalition building, community education and outreach. Dean Eric Schwartz, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration, offered ten tips for strong advocacy on refugee resettlement, ranging from aiming high and going directly to decision-makers with policy asks, to engaging with vocal opponents.

Congressman Keith Ellison, who represents Minnesota’s 5th District, also spoke about the benefits refugees provide to our communities, like helping the economy prosper and adding to the workforce. "Speak up boldly because courage is contagious," he said.

Ellison also touched on the importance of his bill, the Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act, which would make positive changes to the U.S. refugee resettlement program, including enhancing coordination among the government agencies involved in refugee resettlement. The bill would also build on successful programs that provide refugees with English language classes while they are waiting abroad to be processed and help refugees obtain professional certifications for which they are qualified.

Much of the day was spent networking, brainstorming, and planning next steps in developing projects to promote refugee resettlement. Participants left with many new contacts from around the state. They noted that this was a rare opportunity to share ideas with one another and hear about projects others are working on. All this will be helpful as they begin working collaboratively on how to help boost refugee welcome in Minnesota.

“The highlight of this event for me was giving advocates from across the state a chance to talk about shared challenges and potential solutions,” said Liza Lieberman, director of advocacy & outreach at HIAS. “I think seeds were planted today that will bear fruit for years to come.”

“As a Minnesotan, I’m very proud of my home state,” Lieberman added.


To learn more about The Linking Communities Project, click here.

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