June 19, 2021

For World Refugee Day UNHCR New York Director Q and A with Collaborative for New Immigrant Education Students at the NYU SPS English Language Institute

By Philip Herter

The English Language Institute’s Collaborative for New Immigrant Education (CNIE) hosted Ruven Menikdiwela, Director of the New York office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in conversation with students coinciding with World Refugee Day, June 20th.

In her opening remarks, CNIE coordinator Clinical Assistant Professor Robyn Vaccara underscored how critically important it is for our nation’s universities to include refugees in their pursuit of equity: “We believe that the CNIE’s mission aligns with the goals of the UNHCR, particularly, protecting the right to work and the right to education, and adhering to the principles of participation.”

“Inclusion,” this year’s theme, was the starting point for questions from CNIE students on topics ranging from employment and education opportunities, to the backlog of cases of asylum seekers waiting to be resolved, to the importance of educating potential landlords, employers, and even police who may not understand the legal status of asylum seekers.

Two students wearing textile masks in city with blue sky and fluffy clouds

A Moment from UNHCR Director Ruven Menikdiwela’s Conversation with CNIE students

Director Menikdiwela, a 27-year veteran of the United Nations whose service includes postings in Pakistan, Thailand, and Turkmenistan, noted that there are currently over 80 million displaced persons around the world, and acknowledged the challenges faced by asylum seekers but said that efforts by the new administration in Washington were a cause for optimism. She encouraged CNIE students, as refugees, asylees, and asylum seekers, saying, “It’s important for you to share your stories and advocate for yourselves and your communities.”

World Refugee Day, organized every year on June 20th by the United Nations, commemorates and honors refugees from around the world. Established in 2001 in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, World Refugee Day marks its 10th year in acknowledgment and recognition of the strength of refugees who have fled conflict and persecution in the hopes of finding sanctuary and a better life.

Now serving its sixth cohort of students, the CNIE at the NYU School of Professional Studies English Language Institute is a cross-school collaboration with the Silver School of Social Work and a community collaboration with RIF Asylum Support. The mission of the CNIE is to provide access to advanced-level English language instruction, as well as social service support and resources, to asylees, asylum seekers, and resettled refugees so that they can pursue their professional and academic goals. 


Philip Herter teaches in ELI’s Comprehensive English Program. He is the author of two novels–This Fabulous Shadow and Rivers of Yucatán–and a collection of short stories–Inappropriate Avenue–which is forthcoming.

Robyn Vaccara is a Clinical Assistant Professor teaching in ELI’s Comprehensive English Program and the coordinator of the Collaborative for New Immigrant Education (CNIE). She and others helped to spearhead the CNIE to serve refugees in New York City.

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