Rethinking Refugee Resettlement: New Initiative Supporting Syrian Refugees Arriving in San Diego

Driven by compassion and focused on self sufficiency, the PANA Opportunity Hub for refugees pilot gets off the ground with support from the Leichtag Foundation

The Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans (PANA) is a local organization dedicated to advancing the full economic, civic, and social inclusion of refugees in San Diego County. PANA recently announced a new initiative, the PANA Opportunity Hub, to reimagine the refugee resettlement process in San Diego, starting with supporting Syrian refugee individuals and families arriving in North County.

The PANA Opportunity Hub will focus on creating pathways, including English-language education, realistic workforce development and entrepreneurship, and other opportunities. This effort will become a model to ensure all of the county’s refugee resettlement is a human-centered and dignified process leading to long-term economic stability for refugees currently here, and landing in San Diego.

“Conflict in Syria has driven 4.8 million individuals out of their native country, and is being called the largest humanitarian crisis of our time,” said Ramla Sahid, executive director of PANA and senior refugee advisor to the Leichtag Foundation. Less than 1% of refugees globally are ever resettled, only a few thousand hopeful Syrians will be resettled in the U.S. and smaller numbers will have an opportunity to settle in San Diego.”

Sahid continued, “With this pilot initiative, we can make the San Diego refugee resettlement process work better for them, future refugees and the broader community, creating a model for the rest of the country.”

Watch PANA’s video on rethinking the refugee resettlement process.

The PANA Opportunity HUB was inspired by Sahid’s Somali-American family’s experience with resettlement in the U.S. as refugees in 1993. Her mother, who knew little English, worked as a low-wage health care provider while taking nighttime English classes at the local Mid-City Adult Learning Center. This exposed a gap between English-language skills and securing employment in a high-wage job that can support a family. The resettlement process had, and still currently has gaps in English-language and practical skill development critical to participating in the economy.

The PANA Opportunity Hub, supported by the Leichtag Foundation, will deploy three strategies to improve the resettlement process in San Diego, including:

  • Policy reforms, based on surveys and stakeholder input, that identify the support refugees truly need to achieve long-term economic sufficiency in San Diego.
  • Stakeholder meeting with refugee community members, influencers and the public to collaborate and take action locally to respond to this global issue.
  • Communication of the stories of individuals and families escaping persecution to the U.S., to debunk the myths and stereotypes around both refugees and immigrants.
Watch PANA's video on rethinking the refugee resettlement process.
Watch PANA’s video on rethinking the refugee resettlement process.

PANA and the Leichtag Foundation will be rolling out parts of these strategies soon, the first being an informative video released earlier this week, calling out the facts about refugee resettlement, with goals to:

  • Create a wider public dialogue on pre-migration and settlement challenges facing refugees
  • Reduce the social/geographic distance between the San Diego public and San Diego refugee communities
  • Prompt the San Diego public to take action on behalf of/to support refugee communities.

What most people don’t realize is that resettlement is actually just one piece in the refugee protection effort,” Sahid continued. “Our video is an easy-to-understand explanation of what refugees worldwide are going through, and how we’re helping them here in San Diego.”

The Leichtag Foundation’s commitment to these issues is inspired by its founders, Lee and Toni Leichtag – who were both children of immigrants. The Foundation’s Syrian Refugee Initiative is inspired by core Jewish values and teachings that implore people to welcome the stranger and care for the most vulnerable.

Additionally, this work is built upon the Foundation’s longstanding commitment to and investment in social services that advance self-sufficiency in the region. The groundwork for the PANA Opportunity Hub began last Fall, when the Foundation’s board approved the allocation of funding for ongoing support of this crisis.

PANA, founded in 2014, has been a powerful voice for refugees in San Diego, including leading efforts to create a powerful refugee voter participation bloc, educating and advocating against recent anti-refugee legislation in Congress, and supporting the City of Encinitas in joining the White House Building Welcoming Communities Campaign.

Photo Source: AP