Between the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, and the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and in addition to ongoing refugee crises globally — there was a lot of heartbreaking news involving refugees and immigrants in 2021.

As global citizens who are aware of how interconnected we all are, it can feel overwhelming to see real people around the world without a safe place to call home, fleeing violence, discrimination, and even death. In the face of these heartbreaking stories, we saw so many people and organizations stepping up and stepping in to help.

The Biden administration began righting the horrifying wrongs of the previous administration in separating migrant children from their parents at the border. And while they did not go far enough to offer aid and assistance, we were glad to see families reunited.

After the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, countries stepped up to welcome refugees fleeing Taliban rule. We also saw communities in the U.S. welcome refugees with open arms, volunteering to set up new homes for them, organizing donation drives for furniture, clothing, and other essentials. And in 2 days, people sent Miles4Migrants over 52 million frequent flyer miles to help fly refugees to safety.

We still have so much work to do to ensure refugees have a safe, clear, and simple way to find not only a safe place to call home and have their basic needs met — but a place to thrive, too. It's also true that we made a lot of progress, especially towards growing empathy for people faced with such a difficult circumstance, in 2021.

Sesame Street debuted its first-ever Rohingya Muppets for Rohingya children living in the world’s largest refugee camp in Bangladesh

Meet Sesame Street's newest characters: Noor Yasmin and Aziz, 6-year old twins and Rohingya refugees living in a refugee camp. Sesame Workshop debuted the two new Muppet characters last month as part of an early education program for children living in the world's largest refugee camp in Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh.

Rohingya refugees fled conflict in neighboring Myanmar, more than 1 million of them live at Cox's Bazar — more than half of them children.

Thanks to a battery-powered projector, Noor and Aziz will be featured speaking the Rohingya language and engaging with the children in the camp.

“For most Rohingya children, Noor and Aziz will be the very first characters in media who look and sound like them," Sherrie Westin, Sesame Workshop’s president of social impact and philanthropy, said in a press release. “Rooted in the rich Rohingya culture and informed by extensive research and input from Rohingya families, Noor and Aziz will bring the transformative power of playful learning to families at a time when it’s needed more than ever before."

Refugee children fleeing from conflict in their home countries often lack access to early education, a basic human right at a critical stage of development. Research shows how universal access to education opens up opportunities, and is a key component of ending extreme poverty.

And it's so important for children to see themselves represented on-screen. We're celebrating the good work that Sesame Workshop continues to do to make this a reality for children all around the world. 


Lawyers found the parents of 105 separated migrant children

Lawyers working to reunite migrant children separated from their parents the U.S.-Mexico border have found the parents of 105 children. They started with 611 children, and now are still working to locate the remaining 506.

Lawyers for the Justice Department said they expect their federal task force to "resolve many — if not all — outstanding issues."

Bottom line: This never should have happened, and we wish we weren't celebrating children being reunited with their parents at all. There’s still much more work to be done by the Biden Administration and it’s important we hold them accountable. This news reminds us to celebrate those working hard to make sure this devastating wrong is made right, and we're hopeful that in the coming days and months every child will be reunited with their parents.


In a reversal after public outcry, the Biden administration said it will increase the refugee cap in May

Our voices matter — Last week, the Biden administration announced it would *not* be increasing the refugee cap set at 15,000 by President Trump, say it “remains justified by humanitarian concerns and is otherwise in the national interest.”

During his campaign and in a plan laid out to Congress a couple months prior, Biden promised to lift that historically low refugee cap, so the announcement that it would stay in place was met with quick public outcry and criticism among lawmakers in Washington, D.C.

In response to the outcry, hours later the White House reversed the announcement, saying it would be increased by May 15 — but no number was set yet.

Local organizations that support refugees are ready to help in all 50 states.

While so much more needs to be done to address the refugee crisis, this is incredibly encouraging news. It can seem like our elected officials don't listen, or aren't representing the desires of their constituents — but our voices do matter, individually and collectively.

We can make a difference.


Canada announced it will resettle 20,000 Afghan refugees, specifically women leaders and human rights workers

Canada announced its plans to resettle more than 20,000 refugees from Afghanistan including women leaders, human rights workers, and journalists.

The effort is in addition to an earlier initiative to welcome thousands of Afghans who worked for the Canadian government, such as interpreters, embassy workers and their families, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said in a news conference last week.

According to the UNCHR, an estimated 550,000 Afghans have been newly displaced inside the country since January 2021 — primarily due to insecurity and violence, and 80% of them are women and children.

There needs to be a unified, global effort to see that these refugees and displaced persons have their basic needs and human rights met.


In only 2 days, people sent Miles4Migrants over 52 million frequent flyer miles to help fly refugees to safety

Good news from our friends at @miles4migrants — In just 2 days, people donated over 52 million frequent flyer miles and credit card points, $15,000 in travel vouchers, and $100,000 in cash for flights for refugees and asylum-seekers to reach safe homes.

Miles4Migrants is a nonprofit organization that uses donated frequent flyer miles, credit card points, and cash to help people impacted by war, persecution, or disaster reunite with loved ones and start new beginnings in safe homes. 

They've flown over 5,000 people from 78 different countries to safety, and redeemed over 85 million total miles.

Amidst all that's happening in Afghanistan — the new donated miles, points, and cash will be put to work getting refugees and asylum-seekers out and to safety, too.


An asylum-seeking athlete from Iran helped from the Paralympic Refugee team

The #ParalympicGames begin today in Tokyo! When Shahrad Nasajpour heard the Olympics was going to have a refugee team at the Rio 2016 Games, he immediately emailed the International Paralympic Committee and asked, “What about the Paralympics?”

The discus athlete, who was born with cerebral palsy and has some mobility impairments on his left side, sought asylum in the U.S. from Iran just before the 2016 Olympic games and was told by the IPC that they had no plans for a refugee team, but perhaps he could try to compete for the U.S. This was impossible, however, because he didn’t have U.S. citizenship.

But he didn’t give up — and his persistence paid off.

In August 2016, the IPC announced it would have the first-ever Independent Paralympic Team (renamed the Refugee Paralympic Team for 2020) with a refugee and asylee Paralympic athlete. Nasajpour was one of the two athletes to compete. He even carried the Paralympic flag in the Closing Ceremony.

Nasajpour is one of six members of the Refugee Paralympic Team for Tokyo 2020 — back on the team that he pioneered.

Nasajpour is also one of 52 Paralympic and Olympic athletes working with Proctor & Gamble’s “Athletes for Good Fund.” Ahead of Tokyo 2020, each athlete gets $10,000 to donate to a charitable organization of their choice. Nasajpour gave his money to Buffalo Peace House, a nonprofit in Buffalo, New York that assists asylum-seekers.


As many as 73% of people in the U.S. said they support resettling Afghan refugees in the country

According to a new poll from NPR, PBS NewsHour, and Marist College, nearly 73% of people in the U.S. support allowing refugees from Afghanistan to resettle in the country.

Another poll from the Washington Post and ABC News found that 68% of people said they support resettling refugees after they go through a security screening.

We're celebrating this news that a vast majority of people support welcoming refugees into the U.S. — it is not only secure, vetted, and safe — it's also good for communities, creating safer towns and more prosperous economies. And many communities have already started welcoming them!

Good Action: Under the Trump Administration, funding was significantly cut for refugee resettlement organizations around the country — so they especially need our help right now.

A Turkish doctor created an app to help meet the healthcare needs of refugees - refugee women in particular

After trading jazz for a Harvard education, Aral Sürmeli chose to support refugees by not only working in a refugee camp in Turkey, but by developing an app that supports refugees’ unique healthcare needs.

One of the major challenges of being a refugee is the lack of access to real healthcare, particularly for refugee women. But through the power of empathy and tech, there are now more avenues for refugees seeking proper care for their basic needs.

Sürmeli is a Harvard-educated refugee healthcare provider who has worked to offer solutions through public advocacy and digital solutions for refugees seeking shelter, pregnancy care, and much more. After starting his Masters in Public Health at Harvard University in the fall of 2018, Sürmeli launched the HERA Digital Health app — a mobile app connecting refugee mothers and children with preventative healthcare.

On the Sounds Good podcast, Aral Sürmeli talked to Branden Harvey about how he became interested in refugee health after a visit to Turkish refugee camps — and how he’s exploring and working to solve the unique complications for refugees accessing healthcare through tech.


Three Afghan women launched a school for 200 refugee children at the Fort McCoy army base in Wisconsin

The hundreds of children living temporarily at the Fort McCoy base in Wisconsin are among 53,000 Afghans who left their country after the Taliban seized power in August and are being housed on military bases across the United States.

Concerned to see young camp residents missing out on classes, three women refugees decided to set up their own make-shift school for the young Afghan refugees at the base, naming it "Rise Again".

"After we arrived in the camp, we saw kids roaming around, doing nothing. That's when we thought of a school ... we went from building to building and on the very first day we got 130 kids," said Nilab Ibrahimy, one of the school's three founders.

Now, 200 refugee children attend classes, learning math, English, and about life in the U.S.