Providing a house is not the same as providing a home: an interview with PRM Refugee Coordinator Sam Healy

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On September 12-13, 2016, the United States Mission to the European Union (USEU) sponsored and helped organize the “Social Innovation for Refugee Inclusion” conference in Brussels, along with the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), the Council of Europe, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and the Canadian Mission to the European Union. In a number of speeches, panels, and workshops, the conference participants discussed the important next step in resolving the refugee crisis that Europe is trying to manage: integrating them into our societies.

Sam Healy, PRM’s Refugee Coordinator at the U.S.Embassy in Belgrade (Source: USEU)

Members of the U.S. government played important roles during the conference. Chargé d’Affaires Adam Shub delivered a welcome address and two members of the U.S. State Department Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migrants (PRM) presented case studies during the workshops. PRM’s Domestic Resettlement Section Chief Barbara Day’s workshop was titled “From Solidarity to Political Change,” and PRM’s Refugee Coordinator at the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade, Sam Healy, took part in a workshop titled “Housing Crisis vs. Refugee Crisis.”


The USEU press team interviewed Sam Healy about his presentation at the workshop, in which he drew lessons from integrating refugees in the Balkans following the wars in former Yugoslavia in the 1990s and early 2000s.

What can Europe learn from what was done in the Balkans to integrate refugees?

Healy: One of the main things they can learn is to involve the refugees in the decision-making. What the experience in the Balkans has shown us is that if you involve the eventual beneficiaries in designing and making the decisions, you end up with better solutions. Some of the other things are to make sure that the municipalities and the other government entities have the proper support and the proper knowledge that they need to help to integrate the refugees and migrants, because ultimately, they are the entities, they are the government agencies that are going to have to deal with these things on a long term basis.

What has the U.S. contribution been to help house refugees in the Balkans?

Healy: The U.S. has been a partner with the countries in the Balkans and the people in the Balkans since the end of the Balkan conflicts. We participated on a bilateral basis through a number of NGO projects that have built tens of thousands of units of housing. In addition, we are currently working with the European Union and other donor countries together on the regional housing program, which will provide housing solutions for four Balkan countries, Montenegro, Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia, for the most vulnerable of the remaining refugees of the conflicts in the region.

READ: United States Marks World Refugee Day with Commitment to Serbia and the Region (June 19th, 2015)

During the workshop you said: “providing a house is not the same as providing a home.” Could you explain this statement?


Healy: Providing a house means you are merely putting a roof over someone’s head and it does not involve any of the other parts of their lives that they need to have complete in order to feel like they are really integrated into a community. Things like education, things like a job, social structures, and access to health, access to legal rights; all are important towards someone feeling like they are actually a member of the community rather than just someone living in a building. Ultimately, people feeling that they are members of a community is what is going to help heal the wounds that are still festering in parts of the world.

What is the main challenge you find trying to house refugees?

Healy: One of the big challenges is simply resources. There still are many more needs for refugees—and my experience is in the Balkans, but also I think in Europe, Africa, and around the world. The problem is that there are many refugees—over sixty million displaced persons and refugees—and not nearly enough resources. That is one of the main reasons that President Obama has called for the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees at the UN General Assembly. So, I think that resources are really critical. The other half of this solution is communities willing to accept people who are fleeing from their countries and allowing them to integrate permanently in communities. Convincing those people and making them understand that the refugees are actually a benefit to their community is going to be key towards finding “homes” for refugees around the world.  

READ: President Obama’s Statement on World Refugee Day 2016

READ: Secretary of State John Kerry’s Statement on World Refugee Day 2016

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