Refugees taking US university courses in migrant camps in Africa, Mexican border

HIDALGO, Texas (Border report) – Despite the lack of electricity, water supply and other basic amenities, several migrants managed to complete a business college course in the United States while living in tent camps on the northern border of Mexico .

Refugee Awareness Collective (ROC) recruited the migrants, and the association’s leaders are now in Reynosa, Mexico, trying to find more adult migrants to take another course that is offered to them for free while they live in an expanding encampment in this area. dangerous and crime-ridden border town.

Emily Worline is the Executive Director of the Michigan-based nonprofit Refugee Outreach Collective. (Courtesy photo)

Border Report spoke by phone with ROC Executive Director Emily Worline, who was at the refugee tent camp in Reynosa, across the Rio Grande from McAllen, Texas on Monday. She had just learned that her organization had been authorized to begin recruiting for a new course, Humanityism in Theory and Practice, to be offered by a professor at Northern Michigan University. And she said she was thrilled to find 30 refugee students to fill the class.

“We’re going to do our best to recruit these people for this class,” Worline said. “Mainly from those who live in Reynosa. “

Seven ROC-affiliated refugee migrant students completed their first class offered online by a professor at Central Michigan University’s Lansing campus on Friday.

Migrants are seen on May 3, 2021, living in a tent camp in Reynosa, Mexico, south of McAllen, Texas. The camp now has 700 migrants, most of them deported from South Texas under Title 42 travel restrictions. Nonprofits like the Sidewalk School for Children Asylum Seekers help with clothing, food and support. their needs. (Courtesy photo)

The class started with 15 refugee students, all teachers with Non-profit sidewalk school for asylum-seeking children, teaching students in the filthy camp in the border town of Matamoros, Mexico, across the river from Brownsville, Texas. All of the teachers were also refugees awaiting asylum in the United States, but had been sent back to wait in Mexico under the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols program.

But after President Joe Biden took office, nearly 1,000 people from the camp and surrounding areas were allowed legal entry into the United States. This included all of the teachers at Sidewalk School except two. Once they got through, eight of them didn’t complete the course, Sidewalk School co-principal Felicia Rangel-Samponaro told Border Report.

Nonetheless, she said it was a wonderful partnership that gave her teachers the experience of taking an American college course, and more importantly, she said, it gave them more purpose. while they waited in Matamoros, some up to two years.

“I asked my staff how they felt about taking a college course, and everyone said they wanted to go back to school,” Rangel-Samponaro said. “So we fixed a few issues and it happened.”

Felicia Rangel-Samponaro is the co-director of the non-profit Sidewalk School for Children Asylum Seekers. (Border report photo / Sandra Sanchez)

The problems and the logistics took months to iron out. This included a full Spanish translation of the course and study material, and the participation of a weekly interpreter during the course. But in January, the International Business Relations course was launched and everything was going well. This was until the camp was dissolved.

“When the camp closed and 17 staff walked through, it was a huge change,” she said. “But they all took the halfway point. They all passed. She said everyone is doing very well.

The course is not accredited, but Rangel-Samponaro believes the real-world experience of taking a higher education course in the United States and taking the initiative to study even while living in a camp in the United States. refugees will suit their asylum claim.

Rangel-Samponaro calls their ability to follow such a course and pass it a victory, especially given their situation.

Migrant refugees are seen on January 28, 2020, living in a tent camp on the banks of the Rio Grande in Matamoros, Mexico. (Border report file photo / Sandra Sanchez)

The Sidewalk School provided the tablets and study materials, and the university gave them free tuition. Their classmates were American students, and although they or they paid for the course, they also benefited from the weekly Zoom chats in which they learned what life was like in a refugee camp on the border, Worline said.

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way many learn, and she said it opens up an opportunity for academic institutions to understand that refugees in other countries can be part of this academic equation as well.

“Really, at the end of the day, all people need is simple internet access,” she said. “And we can expand their access to universities. “

It is a model that she has been perfecting since ROC, a year ago, began offering its first classes to refugees in Dzaleka, Malawi, in south-eastern Africa.

In the past year, students living in a refugee camp in Dzaleka, Malawi, in Southeast Africa, took free college courses affiliated with Michigan universities through the Refugee Outreach Collective , a non-profit organization. (Courtesy photo)

Currently there are 12 migrant students in Dzaleka taking a course. In June, a new class will explore the European Union, Worline said.

The ROC and the Sidewalk School are not affiliated, but Rangel-Samponaro said she will help Worline book potential recruits for the next humanitarian course. And Worline said she would report what she learned over the past two weeks while visiting the border in Reynosa to her organization’s 25-member executive board in the hopes that they will open more courses and more. places for migrant students in the future.

“Classes are online and can take place anywhere. They can attend conferences and be part of the university, ”Worline said. “So I hope we have more registrants.”

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