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2016: Unprecedented Need, and an Unprecedented Response

Dec 22, 2016

Blog Post

Rachel Nusbaum,

Workers unload the numerals '17' as they arrive in Times Square ahead of the New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square, December 15, 2016 in New York City. They will be part of the '2017' sign that will light up light up above Times Square at midnight on December 31 to ring in the new year.

(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power and HIAS President Mark Hetfield visit with recently resettled Syrian refugees Mohammed Ay Toghlo, his wife Eidah Al Suleiman, son Najati Ay Toghlo in Buffalo, NY, November 22, 2016. Maria (Apple) Domingo, New American Director for Jewish Family Service of Buffalo & Erie County is at left.

(Bill Swersey/HIAS)

HIAS Greece staff in front of the Asylum and Information Services office in the Kara Tepe refugee camp on Lesvos, Greece. September 2016.

(Devon Cone/HIAS)

More than 200 people, including representatives from over 50 synagogues and communal organizations, gathered at the HIAS #JewsforRefugees Assembly in New York City to call for stronger international leadership to alleviate the global refugee crisis. September 14, 2016.

(Gili Getz)

A refugee family sits in front of their tent as they wait to be transferred to reception centres, during an evacuation operation by Greek police forces of the makeshift camp at the Greek-Macedonian border, near the village of Idomeni, on May 24, 2016. At its height, there were more than 12,000 people crammed into the site, many of them fleeing war, persecution and poverty in the Middle East and Asia, with the camp exploding in size since Balkan states began closing their borders in mid February in a bid to stem the human tide seeking passage to northern Europe.


Gabriella Ndawula, case aide at Carolina Refugee Resettlement Agency, gives a cultural orientation presentation to newly arrived Syrian refugees in Charlotte, North Carolina. The women, some of the many resettled by HIAS this year, learn about the culture and laws of their new country as well as the ways their day-to-day life may be different in America. November 4, 2016.

(Lucian Perkins/HIAS)

This year tested us in ways we never imagined possible, but it also spurred us to reach new heights in our work protecting and welcoming refugees.

In June, we learned that the number of people worldwide forced from their homes by war and persecution had surpassed 65 million. As the global refugee crisis continued unabated, the international community struggled to respond to a human migration unprecedented in scale. But while governments debated, HIAS kicked into overdrive—and so did you.

We witnessed a swell of grassroots action and empathy that inspired and helped keep us moving forward on our mission to protect the most vulnerable refugees.

With the help of our local partners, HIAS resettled more than 4,500 refugees in the U.S. in 2016, reuniting nearly 800 families in the process. That's more than just a number—each refugee resettled means one more person, one more family, who has escaped violence or persecution, and been offered the chance to rebuild their lives in safety and freedom.

By the end of the year, we will have resettled more than 900 refugees from the brutal civil war in Syria. In addition, we resettled significant numbers of refugees from Bhutan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Iran, Somalia and Ukraine.

The American Jewish community has been especially active in responding to the global refugee crisis this year. More than 240 congregations across the country signed on to advocate for refugee protection around the world and support and welcome refugees arriving in the United States through the HIAS Welcome Campaign. Synagogues and communities across the country welcomed refugees into their sukkahs, seders and homes, using our educational resources for Jewish holidays to start conversations and raise awareness.   

On the legal services front, our U.S. legal department accepted hundreds of new cases in 2016, many involving unaccompanied minors from Central America. The small but hardworking team has also trained nearly 100 volunteer attorneys in the D.C. area and New York City, preparing them to provide pro-bono services to asylum seekers and expanding our capacity to help the most vulnerable.

Internationally, we served hundreds of thousands of refugees in 2016. Our Ecuador office responded to a series of powerful earthquakes, providing mental health support to first responders and assisting refugee families who were displaced during the disaster. Our Kenya team supported refugees starting their own small businesses including the burgeoning handbag manufacturing studio of an LGBT client. HIAS Israel continued to advocate for asylum seekers there and shared their inspiring success stories. And our Ukraine office was instrumental in the passage of important legislation preserving the rights of hundreds of thousands displaced by that country’s civil war.

In response to the intensification of the international refugee crisis, we also began working in a new country this year.

HIAS Greece is now providing much-needed legal assistance to refugees and asylum-seekers stuck in limbo on the island of Lesvos. In addition to conducting legal orientation sessions for refugees, providing them with the information they need to navigate intricate asylum and migration procedures, HIAS provides legal representation during the asylum process and assists refugees in accessing family reunification and relocation procedures.

It has been a year of growth, and growing impact, here at HIAS. This would not be possible without the incredible support we have received this year from readers like you. In fact, the ranks of dedicated supporters grew by more than 50% this year.  

Whether you made a donation to support our work financially, joined our growing network of volunteers or signed the welcome note to let newly arrived refugees know how glad you are to have them here, we are so grateful for your support.

Together, we made a difference in thousands of lives in 2016. We look forward to continuing this increasingly critical work together in the year head.