It was great to work with StreetlivesNYC, the RDJ Refugee Shelter, Safari Yangu, Civic Hall, and many immigrant partners to start a design process with asylum seekers to find out more about their journeys from their home countries, and their experiences in New York City. The goal is to create some kind of resource for them to help them connect to the information and services they need in what is for them a completely new country. On the RDJ Refugee Shelter site they sum up a typical situation for asylum seekers in NYC:
Thousands of individuals arrive every year in New York City, fleeing violence and oppression in their home countries. However, their strenuous journey doesn't end at the airport. Asylees must wait over two years to receive asylum, and six months for work authorization. In the meantime, they often must learn a new language, look for work, and adapt to a new culture- all while dealing with the emotional and physical trauma from their home countries.
The asylum seekers at the event astonished me with their passion, resourcefulness, and courage. I was moved by the variety and power of their experiences. One of the stories came from a Venezuelan man who said that he came from what was until recently a rich and democratic country that did not have a tradition of outmigration but where conditions now drive thousands of people to flee violence, repression, hunger and chaos. Another man, a member of religious minority who had been targeted by the regime in his home country, fled in a zig-zag journey from embassy to embassy, country to country until he got to New York. Asylum speakers sat at tables with service providers, designers, and technologists sharing highs and lows of their asylee experiences.
I captured the subsequent group conversation where groups shared what they learned and started identifying possible areas to improve future asylum seekers' experiences in our nations biggest city. This event was designed as an early step in the design process, and it achieved its purpose to achieve of getting the conversation started.
I look forward to seeing how this project progresses, and I'm glad to be part of it.