In honor of World Refugee Day on June 20, HIAS and our local partners in communities around the world celebrated refugees and spoke out in support of their rights, as well as the rights of asylum seekers.
Established by the United Nations in 2000, World Refugee Day is marked annually in order to spread awareness on the plight of refugees around the glob.
According to a UNHCR report released this week, 68.5 million were displaced from their homes in 2017, making it the fifth straight year forced displacement has reached a record high. Unfortunately, the Trump Administration’s continued drawback on America’s responsibilities toward protecting refugees and asylum seekers has only exacerbated the crisis.
In the nation’s capital, faith leaders joined together with Members of Congress, former refugees and advocates for a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol Building to call for a return to policies of welcome. Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb, of Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Synagogue in Maryland, addressed the faith community’s obligation to oppose the Trump Administration’s unjust practices.
“We are all responsible for this nation—once a world leader in refugee resettlement, now slamming its doors shut,” he said.
“Speaking as an American Jew, this is especially alarming echoes of the 1930s, when refugees fleeing Nazi Europe found no lamp beside this golden door.”
“We are here,” he continued, “to affirm the historic and moral need for America to lift its lamp.”
Representatives Ted Lieu (D-CA 33) and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA 7), who recently introduced legislation that would increase oversight over and halt the expansion of ICE detention facilities, reminded those gathered of the United States’ tradition of welcoming refugees.
“This is a day for us to recommit ourselves,” she stated, “to a country that is based on so much more than, perhaps, what you hear—based on the notion that we have a place for people who are seeking safety and security.”
Minnesota State Representative Ilhan Omar, who is the first Somali-American to be elected in the Minnesota state legislature, also addressed the crowd.
“I am a refugee. I am African. I am Muslim. And I am a woman,” she wrote in an op-ed penned in honor of World Refugee Day. “If it were up to the Trump administration, I would not have been allowed into this country.”
“But because of the United States’ proud history of welcoming people of all faiths and backgrounds,” she contends, “two decades ago I was given the opportunity to come to this great country in search of a brighter future.”
Following the press conference, dozens of activists joined HIAS, Church World Service, and many of our interfaith partners for a vigil on Capitol Hill.
Demonstrators circled around an empty table to call attention to the refugees the U.S. has left in limbo. Led by, Rev. Dr. Sharon Stanley-Rea, the Director of Disciples Refugee & Immigration Ministries, those gathered broke bread to symbolize that our country has the ability to do more to protect those in need.
In New York City, members of the HIAS community chanted: “say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here” as they marched through Bryant Park.
Rebecca Kirzner, HIAS’ Director of Campaigns, addressed the urgency of our community’s work amidst the largest refugee crisis in recorded history. “Given the scale of the refugee crisis,” she also noted, “the response from our country is criminal.”
“This is a matter of life and death,” she continued. “And, because of that, we will not stop fighting.”
In the evening, HIAS hosted an open meeting of HIAS Action DC, a network of millennials in the Greater Washington, D.C. area who are committed to speaking out for refugees and asylum seekers.
Outraged by the Trump Administration’s inhumane immigration and asylum policies, over 60 young professionals joined HIAS to learn how they can advocate for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers in the coming months.
During the meeting, Georgette Harris, a former refugee who now works for HIAS, spoke about her experience fleeing Liberia and finding safety in the United States.
Across the country, HIAS’ local resettlement partners also celebrated World Refugee Day by lifting up the stories of local refugees and urging their communities to take action.
In Pittsburgh, Jewish Family and Community Services participated as 10 Bhutanese refugees took their U.S. citizenship oaths during a celebration that brought together elected officials, refugees, and community members. And outside of Philadelphia’s City Hall, supporters of HIAS Pennsylvania joined dozens of activists to publicly oppose President Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy.
Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley, one of HIAS’ three partners in California, held an event to brief the community on the organization’s lawsuit, filed last November, against President Trump’s refugee ban and to highlight the stories of local refugees impacted by the Trump Administration’s policies.
In Charlotte, Carolina Refugee Resettlement Agency is using their Facebook feed during the month of June to highlight the stories of refugees who have successfully integrated into the community, despite the noticeable drop in new arrivals.
"The executive branch has the prerogative to set the ceiling for refugee arrivals in October 2017,” she said. “The Trump administration set that number at an all-time low."
And in Toledo, Ohio, HIAS partner US Together will follow a World Refugee Day cookout on Friday, June 22, with a week-long day camp for refugee children and youth running from June 25 through June 29.
All around the country, communities continue to stand for welcome in the face of cruel and increasingly inhumane governmental policies. As the American Jewish community’s lead refugee organization, HIAS and our local partners are guided by our shared history and values.
As HIAS Senior Vice President for Public Affairs Melanie Nezer put it in a World Refugee Day Letter to Congress:
“Our shared immigrant and refugee experiences, and teachings to ‘welcoming the stranger,’ has helped to build this large and engaged constituency. Faith engagement is fundamental to the U.S. refugee resettlement program, now more than ever before.”
Take action for refugees by writing to your members of Congress and asking them to support the life saving U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.