Around the world, almost 60 million have been displaced by conflict and persecution. Nearly 20 million of them are refugees, and more than half are children. The United States has the largest resettlement program in the world, accepting nearly 80,000 refugees through the UNHCR program in 2014 alone, more than all other resettlement countries combined. Almost half of these were youth, with the vast majority experiencing stress and trauma due to exposure to war, deprivation, and violence. Resettlement in the U.S. offers a respite from the extremity of the past but brings with it the new challenge of integration, including academic difficulties, language acquisition, social isolation, negative peer pressure, grief and bereavement, discrimination, cultural misunderstanding, and adjustment to a new educational system.
This struggle is reflected in many ways, one of the most pronounced being their high school graduation rates. According to the U.S. Department of Education, limited English proficiency students (ie. the majority of newcomers) have one of the lowest high school graduation rates of any demographic group, lower than both African American and Native American youth. Further, associated psycho-social stress can hinder refugee children’s ability to learn English, perform adequately in school, and develop peer support networks.
Soccer Without Borders (SWB) addresses the high school dropout crisis amongst refugee and immigrant youth in the USA. In Oakland, where SWB began, the graduation rate is just 52%. Across the bay in a more affluent San Francisco, that rate rises to a mere 65%. Newcomer youth are a vulnerable population across America, graduating at an average rate of 58%. Limited English proficiency and interrupted schooling in their home countries and countries of asylum make it difficult for newcomers to understand the culture of school in America. At home, many must work to support their families. Socially, they face pressure to assimilate into the urban youth culture. When newcomer youth drop out of school, their options become extremely limited. Most work low wage jobs and fall into the cycle of urban poverty.