Posted by: bluesyemre | October 6, 2022

Libraries and Their Roles in Supporting Refugees

Group of multi-ethnic immigrant students sitting at table in library working on English language test

More than 100 million people worldwide have been displaced. Libraries help them.

Currently, more than 100 million people have been displaced from their homes worldwide, according to data provided by the International Rescue Committee. This is due to war conflicts in SyriaUkraineVenezuelaSomalia, and other countries. Most of these people leave their places of origin with only what they can carry, arriving at an asylum location without information on what to do, how to survive, or validating their status as refugees. This is where libraries can be invaluable resources for them.

In previous articles, we have discussed how libraries are not only stores of books but also accumulations of knowledge for information sharing and creating communities. In the specific case of refugees, there is much that libraries can do to help their search for asylum. They have free access to computers with Wi-Fi to learn about the procedures to follow and how to maintain communication with the agencies that provide them with needed services. They can access reading materials in various languages with information for seeking asylum, find trained staff to support the review and use of these resources, and enjoy free activities for their children and families.

In addition, many libraries also have links to educational, wellness, and health services. Very often, those who work in libraries are locals with knowledge of valuable information about where to get help from human rights organizations, where to stay, get food, etc. 

Rolling libraries during refugee times

In addition to resources to regularize the political situation of refugees, libraries can also offer a semblance of normalcy in difficult times, especially for children. Attending a library regularly can be difficult for people displaced in a strange country. Thus, mobile libraries provide invaluable services to refugee communities. The Echo library program in Athens, Greece, is an example of the positive benefits of the effort of librarians not limited to remaining in a single location.

They circulate mainly near refugee camps and can speak Arabic, English, Farsi, French, Greek and more languages. One of these projects’ critical challenges is adapting to serve homeless people. “We changed our loan system and no longer ask for their addresses. Instead, we ask where they are camping,” explained Kiega Dignan, an Echo Library volunteer to The Guardian in 2018.

The organizers of Echo and other similar projects share a philosophy of democratizing knowledge and reading as a resource and refuge. They are clear about the idea that libraries, although having the primary objective to enable and promote reading, must also create safe learning and community spaces, which are basic needs for displaced people.

Do you know of any refugee support programs or features at your local library? As a librarian, do you think libraries’ work is essential for supporting refugees? Would you like your library to get more involved? Let us know in the comments. 

Translation by Daniel Wetta

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