Below is a piece written by Erin Edmiston, a CWS Durham Employment Specialist reflecting on her October 2015 trip to Austria on an educational seminar for refugee resettlement staff from around the world.
An ARSP (Association of Refugee Service Professional) delegation of six people, along with resettlement agency staff and university researchers from North Carolina and Texas went to Vienna, Austria, in October of 2015 on an educational seminar. We were hosted by HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the Resettlement Support Center (RSC), under contract with the US State Department PRM (Populations, Refugees, and Migration) in Austria.
The HIAS program focuses on providing services for religious minorities from Iran who are initially approved for US resettlement. The original purpose of our seminar and trip was to learn about refugee processing in Europe for refugees selected for US resettlement and to look at different models for screening and cultural orientation.
However, the dramatic migration of refugees from Syria struggling to get accepted for resettlement in Europe shifted the agenda for our delegation. Our week was divided into two parts; in the morning we learned about HIAS’s various operations and programs, while in the afternoon we met with other refugee service professionals who were able to inform and update us on the European Refugee Migrant Crisis. We met with UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) legal unit in Austria, Regional Refugee Coordinators from the US Embassies in Austria and Jordan, and visited Austria’s version of a resettlement agency.
On our last day we were able to volunteer at Hauptbahnhof train station where some 800 refugees were seeking asylum and between 1000-2000 refugees were passing through daily. While at Hauptbahnhof we passed out clean clothes, made food as fast as humanly possible, laid out toiletries, sorted donated items, and above all, got a chance to meet the people the whole world is talking about.
I grew up learning of mass migrations in history books and religious texts. But being in Austria forced me to see what a mass migration looks like in today’s time, my lifetime. There were refugees in the train station that would ask me what city they were in, what the name of the station was, and with maps and phones in hand, they were on the move—focused on their ultimate goal of safety and freedom. I do not know what the physical and emotional journey of fleeing ones home and loved ones feels like, but I do know that being in its midst enforced my belief in the importance of acknowledging “other’s” humanity.
-Erin Edmiston, Employment Specialist at CWS-Durham