Merging Social Work and Social Advocacy in Response to the Plight of Unaccompanied Child Refugees in the United States

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Merging Social Work and Social Advocacy in Response to the Plight of Unaccompanied Child Refugees in the United States

Introduction

More than any country in the world, the United States has been a haven for refugees fleeing religious and political persecution in their home countries. Linked forever to the phrase inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," the United States, in the eyes of persecuted people throughout the world, has been idealized as a land of freedom and new beginnings. However, the changing face of refugees seeking asylum in the United States in the past several decades has exposed stark gaps in the legal, administrative, and social treatment of refugees. The majority of refugees in the early part of the twentieth century fled as families or in large groups. Recently, however, increasing numbers of children are fleeing their home countries alone.

Currently, best estimates are that over one-half of the world's refugee population, or over 20 million, are children.1 Human Rights Watch, a watchdog non-governmental organization, estimated that in 1990 over 8,500 children, 70 percent of whom were unaccompanied, reached United States shores.2 While this figure is small relative to the total world estimate of child refugees, the lack of systemic or comprehensive United States governmental policies specifically geared toward assessing the asylum claims of children and their circumstances has become increasingly problematic. Continued human rights violations in China, worldwide genocide - as seen in Bosnia in the early 1990s and currently in Kosovo - and persistent civil wars in Sri Lanka and parts of Africa, have resulted in an increase of t...

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...vler Center works with children and adults who

are victims of torture, while a number of agencies, such as the Bosnian Refugee

Center, provide support for specific ethnic groups. In terms of legal advocacy, the

Midwest Immigrants Human Rights Center provides pro bono legal representation for

adult and children asylum seekers.

References

Bhabha, J., & Young, W. (1998) Through A Child's Eyes: Protecting the Most Vulnerable Asylum Seekers. Interpreter Releases 75 (21), pp. 757-791.

Center for the Study of Human Rights, Columbia University. (1994) Twenty-five Human Rights Documents. New York: Columbia University.

Ehrenreich, R. (1997) Slipping Through the Cracks. New York: Human Rights Watch.

Immigration and Naturalization Service, United States Department of Justice. (1998) Guidelines for Children's Asylum Claims. (File: 120/11.26).

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