Refugee Resettlement in the Most Diverse Square Mile in America: A Study of Clarkston, Georgia
CitationYang, Yenny. 2020. Refugee Resettlement in the Most Diverse Square Mile in America: A Study of Clarkston, Georgia. Master's thesis, Harvard Extension School.
AbstractThere are over 71 million individuals in the world who are forcibly displaced due to war and persecutions. For many, the journey of forced migration is often filled with series of traumatic experiences causing considerable amount of stress and anxiety. This anxiety is heightened as they are thrusted into a brand-new environment upon resettlement, often vastly different than anything they left behind. In recent years, refugee resettlement in the United States has been a controversial topic, as the Trump administration creates aggressive policies to reduce refugee admissions down to an unprecedented small number. Despite the nativist rhetoric from the Trump administration designed to work against refugee resettlement programs, the city of Clarkston, Georgia has been steadily resettling refugees and asylees and prioritizing the importance of successful resettlement and integration process. Clarkston is chosen as a case study for this thesis due to its reputation as the most diverse square mile in America, where more than half of its residents are foreign born and the majority of those are refugees. The primary research questions that guide this study are: (1) Why was Clarkson’s model of refugee resettlement successful? (2) What roles did the main contributors play to the successful resettlement policy? (3) How have local political leaders and leaders of NGOs worked to address the needs of one of the most diverse communities in America? To address the purpose of this study, the study focuses on questions about experiences of refugee resettlement and integration process from refugees of various backgrounds and specific roles of local government, non-profit organizations and civic iv leaders in making Clarkston a success story when it comes to refugee resettlement and integration. From a methodological standpoint, this study used a qualitative case study, with a sample of twenty-five in-person interviews, two phone interview, three email surveys, and ethnographic fieldwork at ten sites. I selected a sample from each group’s population, interviewed the individuals within each specific group, and conducted ethnographic observations and informal semi-structured interviews during all events and site visits. The study shows that economic self-sufficiency is one of the most important indicators of successful resettlement in the eyes of refugees, as they believe that self-sufficiency allows them to regain control of their lives and build their confidence to start a new life with dignity. From a local government perspective, the importance of declaring Clarkston as an official “welcoming city” as part of a network and movement of likeminded cities and municipalities is one of the most important factors that allows the city to be laser-focused in creating access to specific programs and resources for Clarkston’s large and extremely diverse refugee residents. From a non-profit and civic organizations standpoint, or practitioners, creating specific and niche program focusing on providing quick access to employment opportunities and access to resources and services beyond the ‘six months resettlement period’ is key to determine the success of refugee resettlement. Particularly, programs that cater to certain demographic of refugees, such as elderly, school age children, and other vulnerable populations, are the focus of many Clarkston-based non-profit organizations. While voluntary agencies (VOLAGs) are responsible for assisting newly arrived refugees for the first six months with their basic needs such as cash assistance, job search, and skills development, the focus of many non- v profit organizations is to assist these refugees beyond that initial time frame, to allow refugees to not just survive, but thrive, in Clarkston. The observation of this study suggests that the official declaration of a Welcoming City has helped Clarkston’s city government and key stakeholders, such as community leaders and NGOs, to have clear frameworks and measurable outcomes to achieve and maintain its welcoming city status, which makes for a unified messaging echoed throughout the different agencies. More in-depth research might be needed on whether declaring an official Welcoming City status is motivated by social justice or more ‘city branding’ for marketing purposes. Another potential research possibility would be around the framework of Clarkston’s hyper diversity and whether the fact that Clarkston is a condensed city of less than two miles with extremely diverse foreign-born residents make it an ideal place for refugee resettlement based on all the reasons laid out in this thesis. A comparison between Clarkston and other cities with comparable size and characteristics (near metro area, affordable housing, public transport accessible) and as diverse as Clarkston might provide better insights in this matter.
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