Episode 6: Refugees in Central Texas

On this episode of Civil Society, we discuss the refugee experience in Central Texas. We speak with Désiré Nizigiyimana, a former magistrate in Burundi, who escaped a dangerous situation with his family. Arriving here in 2012, Désiré now works with others seeking asylum in the United States as the Refugee Program Assistant at Interfaith Action of Central Texas. Our other guests are Flor Castellanos, Board Member, Chair of Outreach Committee at Multicultural Refugee Coalition, and Christina Collazo, Founder and Executive Director of Todos Juntos Learning Center.

Our Guests:

Desire Nizigiyimana

Desire Nizigiyimana

Refugee Program Assistant, Interfaith Action of Central Texas (iACT)

Flor Castellanos

Flor Castellanos

Board Member - Chair of Outreach Committee. Multicultural Refugee Coalition

Christina Collazo

Christina Collazo

Founder / Executive Director, Todos Juntos Learning Center (formerly Sí Se Puede (SSP) Learning Center)


Helpful Links and Resources
For more information about refugee arrivals in Texas visit the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs. To learn more about the United States Refugee Resettlement Program visit the Office of Refugee Resettlement.  To learn more about the global refugee situation visit United Nations High Court of Refugee’s website at: www.unhcr.org

Support Services for Refugees in Austin, TX

Click here for downloadable PDF of this list

American Gateways
American Gateway was formed 27 years ago in response to a refugee crisis in Central America. They provide legal services to the immigrant children and families fleeing their homes in Central America.
Website:   https://www.americangateways.org Phone: 512.478.0546

Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition  ( Austin  IRC)
Promotes human rights, dignity, and social and economic justice for immigrants through community organizing, policy advocacy, and public education. Austin IRC has begun a campaign to support refugee families and children.
Website: https://austinirc.org
Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/Austin-Immigrant-Rights-Coalition/96675541690
Email: info@austinirc.org
Phone: 512.476.2472

Austin Tan Cerca de La Frontera
ATCF seeks to address conditions of social and economic injustice along the Texas/Mexico border, particularly as they affect women and communities of color, and to find community-driven alternatives through transnational solidarity and fair trade.
Website:  https://www.atcf.org
Facebook: www.facebook.com/groups/112390192140279/
Phone: 512.474.2399

Caritas of Austin
Caritas assists documented refugees by providing and moving them into housing, acclimating them to their environment and helping them find employment.
Website: https://www.caritasofaustin.org
Phone: 512.479.4610, ext. 170

Catholic Charities of Central Texas
Catholic Charities’ Immigration Legal Services division provides affordable legal consultations, representation, and assistance in Central Texas to low-income immigrants of all cultural and religious backgrounds.
Website: https://ccctx.org/ils/

Circle of Health International
Works with women and their communities in times of crisis to ensure access to quality reproductive, maternal, and newborn care.
Website:  https://www.cohintl.org
Phone: 347.712.1721

DSHS Border Issues
The Department of State Health Services has created an email address that may be used as a single point of contact for requests for volunteerism and other external inquiries related to current border issues.
Email:   DSHSBorderIssues@DSHS.state.tx.us

Equal Justice Center
The Equal Justice Center has mobilized its attorneys, law students, and interns to help address the humanitarian needs of recent refugees in Texas for legal counsel and assistance.
Email: bbeardall@equaljusticecenter.org
Bill Beardall, Executive Director Phone: 512.474.0007, ext. 101

Grassroots Leadership
Grassroots Leadership fights to end for-profit incarceration and reduce reliance on criminalization and detention through direct action, organizing, research, and public education.
Website: https://grassrootsleadership.org
Email: blibal@grassrootsleadership.org
Bob Libal, Executive Director Phone:  512.971.0487

Hutto Visitation Program
Visits T. Don Hutto Detention Facility in Taylor, Texas, and performs additional work in public education and advocacy. Sponsored by Grassroots Leadership, Texans United for Families, and the Social Justice Institute at The University of Texas.
Email: rvillalobos@grassrootsleadership.org
Rocío Villalobos, Coordinator

Immigrant Services Network of Austin
ISNA is a working group of diverse community stakeholders and immigrant service providers operating together to coordinate efforts, increase public awareness, and inform policy, in order to better serve the immigrant community.
Website: https://isnaustin.wordpress.com

Refugee  and  Immigration  Center  for  Education  and  Legal  Services  ( RAICES)
RAICES provides legal services to unaccompanied children. They also need volunteers with an interest in marketing and social media campaigns. RAICES is based in San Antonio, but has offices in Austin.
Website: https://www.raicestexas.org
Facebook: www.facebook.com/raicestexas
Phone: 210.226.7722
Volunteer contact: helpkids@raicestexas.org

Refugee Services of Texas
Learn about composing letters to lawmakers.
Website:  https://www.rstx.org
Email: austin@rstx.org
Phone: 512.472.9472

Texans United for Families (TUFF)
This is a grassroots, volunteer-driven project of Grassroots Leadership whose mission is to fight back against immigration detention and deportation.
Facebook: facebook.com/TexansUnitedForFamilies

Texas Appleseed
Texas Appleseed’s mission is to promote social and economic justice for all Texans by leveraging the skills and resources of volunteer lawyers and other professionals to identify practical solutions to difficult systemic problems. Projects include Immigration Court and Detention Reform and Protecting Child Refugees.
Website: https://www.texasappleseed.net
Phone: 512.473.2800, ext. 111

Desire Nizigiyimana - Bio

MISSION: iACT cultivates peace and respect through interfaith dialogue, service and celebration.

Desire Nizigiyimana was born on December 18, in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, and grew up in Bujumbura and its suburbs. He graduated from the University of Ngozi in 2001, in the Faculty of Economics and Administration Sciences, in the Department of Law with distinction.  At the end of a dissertation he defended with the Distinction, he taught as an assistant in the law school of several universities in the Great Lakes region, including the Independent University of Kigali in Rwanda, The University of the Great Lakes of Bururi in Burundi, the Higher Institute of Management and Economics in Burundi, and the Catholic University of Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Prior to his appointment as a Judge of the High Court of the City of Bujumbura, he worked for a few years in Gitega as Deputy Prosecutor of the Republic at the High Court of Gitega. He has also worked as a Consultant in Pacific Resolution of Conflicts with the Nile Basin Initiative, and Gender and Development Consultant for IFAD.

In 2009, following inhuman and degrading treatment and many death threats from the agents of the National Intelligence Service of Burundi, he decided to leave Burundi to go and live as an asylum seeker in Rwanda, a neighboring country of Burundi.

Life was not easy in Kigali in Rwanda since he had to leave all that he had as well acquired during almost a decade of hard work to start all over again. After many months of struggle, his asylum application was forwarded to UNHCR. In the meantime, he had to find something to support his two children, a six-month-old boy at the time, a year and half old girl, and his wife who had fled the country with him.

From 2009 to 2011, he has worked in a law firm in Kigali as a file and project manager. He then had the honor of being part of a team of lawyers in charge of the study of the launching of a court for children in East Africa. He subsequently served as legal advisor to several public and private entities in Rwanda, including the Catholic Diocese of Cyangugu, of which he was the pillar of the defense and successful in a file of more than 5 billion dollars.

In 2012, Desire Nizigiyimana was relocated to the United States in the state of Texas in Austin. He was received and accompanied by Caritas of Austin in the difficult beginnings of the life of a refugee in a foreign country. Then, he was sent to a non-profit organization Interfaith Action of Central Texas (iACT) to learn English. After two weeks, he was engaged as an interpreter for his refugee friends who speak French, Kinyarwanda, Swahili and Kirundi within the same organization. He later worked as a Nursing Aide in Nursing Homes. Parallel to this, he has worked with Austin Independent School District as Refugee Parent Support and with multiple non-profit among others the Refugee Service of Texas, Translation and Interpretation Network, Master World, and American gateways as interpreter and translator for the French, Swahili, Kirundi, and Kinyarwanda.

Today, Desire Nizigiyimana works as a Refugee Program Assistant at iACT, a position he has held since June 2014. He continues to work as a volunteer with American Gateways.

Desire Nizigiyimana is married to Beatrice Gasage and they have two children, Tricia Ella Mugisha, daughter, and Andy Michael Muco, son.

You can find him on Social Media: Facebook by writing his name Desire Nizigiyimana, and on Twitter.

Flor Castellanos - Bio

Mission: To create livelihood opportunities for refugees.mrcaustin.org

Flor Castellanos

Originally from Oklahoma and an alumni of Texas Tech University, Flor moved to Austin in 2016 after moving back from teaching ESL English in northern Thailand as part of the The Fulbright Program. In 2013 Flor spent some time working for a human rights NGO working on the Syrian refugee crisis in Amman, Jordan, where she developed a passion for the refugee community. She currently serves on the board of directors for the Multicultural Refugee Coalition as she pursues her Master’s in Educational Psychology with a specialization in human development, culture, and learning sciences at The University of Texas at Austin.
Christina Collazo - Bio

MISSION: Building a community of dignity for families to realize their own success.


Christina Collazo was raised in the Rio Grande Valley, where educational and career opportunities were limited. Her experience has given her an appreciation of the importance of good educational systems. A graduate of St. Edward’s University, Christina studied International Relations with a focus in Latin American Studies. Her background in non-profit organizations includes working at San Juan Diego Catholic High School as the Corporate Work Study Program Director and in Corporate Sponsor Recruitment. Her work with A Look…for Love Foundation, raised monies for the Austin Children’s Shelter and the Austin Museum of Art. She co-founded Sí Se Puede Learning Center in 2009 and founded SSP Learning Center in May of 2013.