Women’s Refugee Commission: an Ethnography of an Immigrant Organization

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A refugee is a displaced individual, who could be either internally displaced, or has been forcefully displaced. According to the United States department, prospective refugees are referred for resettlement to the United States by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), or the U.S. Embassy. They are referred to what's called the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. At that point, resettlement workers help refugees and their families prepare their case to present to the Department of Homeland Security. The Department of Homeland Security officials screen hopeful refugees, who must undergo a thorough security clearance and medical exams before they can be cleared for admission to the U.S. Once they are cleared, refugees are allocated to one of nine private NGOs that contract with the federal government. These agencies then take refugees through the resettlement process. One major advocacy institute for refugees is the Women's Refugee Commission located on 15 West 37th Street, New York, NY 10018 is a advocacy institute for this commission. It took a lot of time for this advocacy institue to grow. Established in 1989, it was part of the International Rescue Committee(IRC) until the summer of 2014 when it became a legally separate entity. In 1991 they were the first US orgination to call for an international ban on the use of anti-personnel landmines. In 1994 the UNHCR policy on the protection of refugee women becomes official in the US government policy, after a successful advocacy campaign. In 2002 they successfully advocated for Congress to transfer custody of unaccompanied refugee children in the U.S. from the Immigration and Naturalization Service to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a social services agency. At last, in 2009 The Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children officially changes its name to the Women's Refugee Commission. The WRC has many programs that advocate for

Detention & Asylum Program (DAP) advocates for legislation and policy that would ensure the safety and well-being of migrant women, families and unaccompanied children. DAP works with the Obama administration, the U.S. Congress and the Department of Homeland Security, including its various agencies, to institutionalize these important safeguards.

To address the gap in knowledge on the issue and to place refugees with disabilities higher on the international agenda, the Women's Refugee Commission undertook a six-month research project in 2008 to assess the situation of those living with disabilities among displaced and conflict-affected populations. Using our field research in five countries”Ecuador, Jordan, Nepal, Thailand and Yemen”we sought to document existing services for displaced persons with disabilities, identify gaps and good practices and make concrete recommendations on how to improve services, protection and participation for this neglected population.

The Women's Refugee Commission has been a leading proponent of efforts to promote women's empowerment, gender equality and protection against gender-based violence. We have advocated for the passage of landmark Security Council resolutions on the protection of women and children. Our groundbreaking 2002 report If Not Now, When? documented the shortcomings of previous efforts to address GBV.

Family planning saves lives, yet it is often neglected in areas affected by conflict or disaster. According to research the Women's Refugee Commission conducted in five countries: Djibouti, Jordan, Kenya, Malaysia and Uganda, access to and use of family planning tends to be even lower among refugees than among those living in surrounding communities. To address this, the Women's Refugee Commission has developed informational materials using pictures that clearly explain how family planning works, what its benefits are and where it can be obtained. These materials can be adapted to different cultural contexts.

The Women's Refugee Commission works for full implementation of the Women, Peace and Security agenda at the UN. It undertakes advocacy to ensure that the UN and its members support and recognize the work of women, who are the linchpins of their communities and whose contributions are key to putting their countries back on the path to peace and security.

The Women's Refugee Commission works to ensure that displaced youth have opportunities to learn and grow so they can contribute to their communities and one day be able to support themselves and their families. (womensrefugeecommission.org)


The Women's Refugee Commission has a advocacy office located in one of the most diverse cities in the world. The location is 15 west 37th street, New York, NY 10018. This Comission office is located on 5th avenue. Fifth Avenue is lined with elegant boutiques and flagship stores and is consistently ranked among the most expensive shopping streets in the world. Many luxurious foods, fashion, and sport brand boutiques are located on Fifth Avenue, including Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, Armani, Tommy Hilfiger, Lindt Chocolate Shop, Henri Bendel, NBA Store, Oxxford Clothes, Microsoft Store, Sephora, Zara, and H&M. Luxury department stores include Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman. Fifth Avenue is known for its tourism spot because of all these boutiques hence all the traffic in the area. The womens refugee commission is surrounded by different types of restaurants and is in a tall building on the 9th floor. It is very easy to get around the neighborhood if you are a New Yorker. Less than a mile away from the commission is Bryant Park, Madison Square Garden, Pennsylvania Station, Empire State and many more tourist attractions. I personally feel that this advocacy institute is in a great location because the main goal for them is to improve the lives and protect the rights of women, and children who were displaced conflicts of crisis in their countries, and what better way to do all this then being surrounded by a positive enviroment in the heart of New York. I went into the commission thinking I would be able to meet actual refugees and spend some time with them, instead I walked into an office enviroment filled with individuals advocating for these refugees. When I reached the site I was very hesitant to go in because I didn't know what it would be like. Once I walked in everything seemed normal to me, I work in an office in manhattan and thats exactly how the enviroment it felt like I stepped into a larger version of my office. I spoke to many advocates and for the most part it was a very diverse office. Almost all of the advocates there were of differect race and spoke more than one language which was different to hear about. As I mentioned in the background information the commission together has achieved so much and they were so proud of what they do because after speaking to the ladies I was shown a couple of awards they received.


I had a very interesting interview with one of the ladies at the office. I began with asking her basic questions like what does the organization do? and how do you find these specific refugee's to help? they answered by saying that the refugees contact NGO's and then the NGO places them in specific programs that will help them. There was one question on the fieldwork research where it stated, What are some main theme that emerged in the course of your research? so I asked the lady what is the main theme from doing all this? since we deal with many people who have suffered in life I would say that everything happens for a reason and also, if you do good, good will happen to you. she answered. At this point I was very confused because these statements seemed very religious to me and things like this aren't really said by advocates. After asking more general questions to get to know about what they advocate for, I asked her what did she mean by her statement about good and what was destined to be. She then stated that, I believe that everything is destined to be and we don't have a choice so whatever happens will be good if we do good or wise versa if you do bad karma will find you. At this point I was a little terrified of the way she was speaking, I didn't know if this was just her thoughts or the whole organization felt this way. After this conversation I concluded the interview. Since I didn't get a lot of information from the lady at the office I did some research on their website which really helped me come up with key concepts which associated with our class. There were many key concepts such as a political economy, migration from their home country into the U.S., globalization, race/ethnicity/class, power and cultural capitalism. All of these concepts go hand in hand with refugees and their process of coming into the United States. I believe that the two main key concepts that sum up the rest of them would be power of the government and cultural capitalism. The Women's Refugee Commission operates in the worlds most diverse cities, and also in the city where immigrants first came back in the 1700s. Later when Europeans came those immigrants can be considered refugees. Not the ones who were forcefully displaced but the ones who came to pursue bigger and better life with much more freedom. When it comes to refugees and power its all in the hands of the government, whether they will let the refugees in, or keep them out for the safety of the country. An example of this power can be described by President Donald Trump. Back in April there was war in Syria where an enourmous amount of women and children where displaced no where to go because of the destroyed homes, and families being seperated, they wanted to come to the United States so they can start a new life but Trump closed all doors in the United States for the Syrian refugees calling them terrorists and stating that it can harm the country which is not right. The government has the power, it is said that, The federal Immigration and Nationality Act, specifically Section 207, spells out the process for setting parameters on the number of refugees to be admitted. Prior to the start of each federal fiscal year (which begins Oct. 1), the president must determine the number of refugees --"as justified by humanitarian concerns or is otherwise in the national interest." The president must arrive at the number, as well as the allocation of refugee slots, after consultation with the House and Senate judiciary committees. (politifact.com) Another key concept of Refugee organizations is the concept of cultural capitalism. Cultural capital is the collection of knowledge, and behavior that one can demonstrate awareness, and thus and individuals social status or standing in the society. This relates to many youth refugees who want to continue their education. Many refugees are taking education in local public schools within the five boroughs of New York City, which might be considered as field of struggle because coming into a new country and adapting to the customs here will take a lot of time, and thus through which they navigate cultural and social capital from the society.


In conclusion. The Women's Refugee Commission is a great advocacy institute who improves the lives and protects the rights of women, children and youth displaced by conflict and crisis. We research their needs, identify solutions and advocate for programs and policies to strengthen their resilience and drive change in humanitarian practice. Since our founding in 1989, we have been a leading expert on the needs of refugee women and children, and the policies that can protect and empower them. My experience personally was not the best becauyse I was hoping to go in and meet actual refugees and spend time with them to get know how and what the whole process feels like. While visiting the the Women's Refugee Comission I got to learn about programs that offer a relatively quick path to permanent residency and adjustment to the United States, with the major objectives of economic success, community involvement, and local integration. There is an average of 60,000 refugees resettled in the United States every year and about 30,000 of these are children (UN Refugee Agency). As global conflicts rise, it is very much likely that the number of displaced people worldwide will also rise. Key concepts within this organization and refugees in general are the power of government and that they can do whatever they want to do whether it might negatively affect or positively help the refugees and also the cultural capitalism. At last, this ethnographic study helped me better understand the refugees process and also somethings that these organizations advocate for.


Commission, Women's Refugee. Homepage. Women's Refugee Commission Website, WRC, 2014, www.womensrefugeecommission.org/.

Kertscher, Tom. How Much Authority Does Barack Obama Have in Allowing Refugees

to Come to the U.S.? @Politifact, 11 Mar. 2016, www.politifact.com/wisconsin/statements/2016/mar/11/ron-johnson/how-much-authority-does-barack-obama-have-allowing/.

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Women's Refugee Commission: An Ethnography of an Immigrant Organization. (2019, Jun 24). Retrieved November 28, 2023 , from

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