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January 18, 2018

For resettled refugees, personal stories are central to advocacy

Refugee advocates gather in Washington DC for media training.Refugee Congress delegates take a group photo during the national media-training forum.

Fidel Nshombo was just a teenager when war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo tore his family apart and forced him to flee his country alone. For the next seven years, Fidel walked, traveled by boat and hitchhiked throughout Africa, seeking refuge in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. He was living in a refugee camp when his journey to safety finally came to an end and he was resettled in Boise, Idaho.

Today, Fidel is the Idaho delegate to Refugee Congress, a refugee-led advocacy organization comprised of delegates from each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia who champion refugee issues. Over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, Fidel and 10 of his fellow delegates gathered in Washington, DC for a national media-training forum.

A central theme of the day aimed at preparing delegates to reshape the conversation about the refugee experience – and how to win new supporters.

“How do I hit that point that will persuade those people who are hanging in the balance while avoiding those points that will push them away?” Fidel asked.

Refugee advocate, Fidel Nshombo, practices on-camera interviews.Fidel Nshombo practices interview techniques during the media-training day. 

Congress members worked on developing their message, learned the art of staying on point during an interview and were reminded that their personal story is their strongest advocacy tool.

The training is part of a comprehensive effort by Refugee Congress to prepare delegates to advocate effectively for the unique challenges facing the resettled refugee community here in the U.S. in 2018 and beyond.

“We are the real experts on refugee issues,” Fidel continued. “Our experience makes us experts.”

That expertise is already changing the conversation at the local level in positive ways. In November 2017, the citizens of Helena, Montana voted Wilmot Collins, Montana Refugee Congress delegate and former refugee from Liberia, as city mayor.

USA for UNHCR partners domestically with organizations like Refugee Congress to help address the needs of refugees and asylum-seekers in the United States. The education and advocacy trainings facilitated by Refugee Congress complement USA for UNHCR's mandate to help and protect refugees and people displaced by violence, conflict and persecution.