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WORLD REFUGEE DAY: Salesian Missions highlights educational and social programs that aid refugees

(MissionNewswire) Salesian Missions, the U.S development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco, joins humanitarian organizations and the international community in honoring World Refugee Day, held each year on June 20 since 2001. The day, which is coordinated by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and other international organizations, honors the plight of millions of refugees and internally displaced people who have been forced to flee their homes.

UNHCR has noted that a record 70.8 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced by the end of 2018. Among them are nearly 25.9 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. Fifty-seven percent of all refugees come from South Sudan, Syria and Afghanistan. There are also 3.9 million stateless people, but there are thought to be millions more, who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement. One person is forcibly displaced every two seconds as a result of conflict or persecution.

“In countries around the globe, Salesian missionaries are assisting close to 400,000 refugees and internally displaced persons whose lives have been affected by war, persecution, famine and natural disasters such as floods, droughts and earthquakes,” said Father Gus Baek, director of Salesian Missions. “Salesian programs provide refugees much needed education and technical skills training, workforce development, healthcare and nutrition.”

To mark World Refugee Day 2020, Salesian Missions is proud to highlight programs around the globe that provide life-changing education and support for refugees and internally displaced people in need.


Nawal, a 47-year-old Sudanese single mother of four children, has a small tailoring business thanks to a scholarship she received for training from a project funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) through a Salesian technical and vocational training center in Cairo, Egypt.

Salesian missionaries offer vocational and technical training to assist refugees in gaining the skills needed for employment in their new host countries, which for many is particularly challenging due to labor laws and a lack of established social and professional networks.

In addition to the technical training, the project also provides life skills training, health awareness, entrepreneurship literacy workshops, job panels, seed grants, and violence prevention training to help refugees build the skills needed to succeed in the workplace and adjust in their new urban environments. One of the great successes of the project is the additional social services, including transportation vouchers for travel to and from courses, that are fully funded for participants. Those engaged in the training are also provided vouchers to purchase groceries and other essentials from a local store. This helps to ensure that basic needs like nutrition are met.

Each participant also receives a voucher for a primary care checkup and eye exam with a doctor who comes to the school. Some medicine prescriptions are included as are referrals for secondary care as needed.

The project was first funded through Salesian Missions in 2014. To date, the project has improved the livelihoods and quality of life of more than 1,300 Sub-Saharan African and Syrian refugees and vulnerable Egyptians.


The Siamo Umani (We are human) project is carried out by the Salesian Social Cooperative within the Sacred Heart Youth Center in Rome, located next to Termini Station and the Basilica of the Sacred Heart founded by Don Bosco himself. The project helps young refugees and Italians find job placements and was recently selected as an inclusion model at the Global Refugee Forum in Geneva.

Siamo Umani was founded in 2014 by two young married couples, Cristina and Giuseppe and Francesco and Antonella, with the help of Salesian missionaries. Their goal was to connect young refugees seeking services at the Sacred Heart Youth Center to job placements and fulfill the needs of community residents like the elderly. The goal was to bridge a gap between those new to Italy and residents who might be able to help refugees acclimate easier.

The project has been successful to date. Its initiatives have grown and diversified and now include assistance for those wishing to start their own small businesses by creating and selling gadgets and homemade crafts.

For example, Soheila from Iran and Amira from Somali have put their artistic talents to good use in the creation of bonbonniere and gadgets for events and anniversaries. Viviane, originally from the Ivory Coast, provides light assistance to the elderly in the center of Rome. Mirvat, a passionate photographer from Syria, curates a blog and aspires to become an influencer on social networks to transmit a message of integration to young people. Finally, Morteza, a young man who arrived in Italy from Afghanistan, is a video maker who is hired by various local groups.


Salesian missionaries in Lima, Peru, are working to accommodate migrants and refugees from Venezuela. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked Salesian missionaries to sign an agreement to set up temporary migrant assistance offices at the Salesian Institute, which is located in the Breña neighborhood of Lima. The Salesian Institute is expected to receive an average of 1,000 people per day.

Salesian Father José Valdivia, provincial economer of Peru, explained that the cooperation agreement was made through UNHCR, the UN refugee agency. UNHCR has noted, “People continue to leave Venezuela to escape violence, insecurity and threats as well as lack of food, medicine and essential services. With over 4 million Venezuelans now living abroad, the vast majority in countries within Latin America and the Caribbean, this is the largest exodus in the region’s recent history.”

According to UNHCR data, there are more than 4.5 million Venezuelan migrants and refugees in other countries. Colombia has hosted close to 1.3 million while Peru currently has more than 768,000. Prior to the launch of the migrant assistance offices, Salesian missionaries in Magdalena del Mar, Lima, opened the Don Bosco House for youth who arrive in Peru. They are offered food and accommodation.

In support of the migrant assistance offices, youth from the Don Bosco House joined other young Venezuelan migrants and refugees who live in the Magdalena del Mar neighborhood to help set up the spaces. They worked with representatives from UNHCR.


Uganda has become home for more than 1.3 million refugees—82 percent of whom are women and children—in the wake of the ongoing conflict in South Sudan, according to UNHCR. Millions have fled South Sudan and nearly 400,000 have died as a result of armed clashes. Many of those who have fled to Uganda have taken refuge at the Palabek Refugee Settlement in northern Uganda.

According to UNHCR, Palabek is currently home to nearly 46,000 refugees and asylum seekers. It was officially set up in April 2016 to reduce congestion in larger refugee camps in the northwestern corner of Uganda. Several agencies are involved in providing food and education within Palabek.

Salesian missionaries at the settlement are offering much-needed psycho-social support and pastoral care for thousands of Christian residents. They also operate four nursery schools that educate more than 1,000 children. In addition, more than 700 children are attending Salesian primary and secondary schools and more than 700 families are supported by other initiatives.

Salesian missionaries launched a vocational training center to offer life skills and other training to help young refugees prepare for employment. Young refugees can attend vocational training courses for free. Depending on the discipline, some courses run for 3-6 months while others run as long as a year. Salesian missionaries have also set up a job placement office that helps students make contact with companies that are hiring, prepare resumes and prep for interviews, and find internships and on-site training opportunities.

The vocational training center currently has 450 students, 400 refugees and 50 host community Ugandans. The majority of students are young women and mothers who are finally having an opportunity to learn a skill. They are taking courses in tailoring, cosmetology and salon services such as hairdressing. Young men are learning automobile mechanics and motorcycle repair training. Agriculture classes are taught to all students no matter their primary area of study.



EGYPT: Mother of 4 from Sudan starts tailoring business thanks to Salesian Missions project in Cairo

Photo courtesy of Salesian Missions (contact for usage permissions)

ITALY: Siamo Umani project helping young refugees use their skills and talents to start small businesses

ANS Photo (usage permissions and guidelines must be requested from ANS)

PERU: Salesian missionaries sign agreement to set up temporary migrant assistance offices in support of Venezuela migrants and refugees

ANS Photo (usage permissions and guidelines must be requested from ANS)

Salesian Missions

UGANDA: Salesians and refugees are aiding others with face masks and prevention education in response to coronavirus pandemic

Photo courtesy of Don Bosco Palabek Refugee Resettlement Camp

UNHCR – Refugee Statistics

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