Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) hosted a World Refugee Day celebration and panel discussion today at the National Press Club to discuss global migration and issues related to U.S. refugee resettlement. Participants included Antony Blinken, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State; Shelly Pitterman, Regional Representative, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); Ken Tota, Deputy Director, U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement; Simon Henshaw, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration; and Linda Hartke, President and CEO, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
The event was the culmination of the fourth annual LIRS Migrant and Refugee Leadership Academy, a three-day training program designed to equip former refugees and migrants with legislative advocacy and leadership enrichment skills that enable them to become advocates in their local communities. Since its inception, the Academy has trained over 150 refugees and migrants from 37 states.
This year, thirty-two Academy participants, including training facilitators who are former refugees and migrants, were selected from a pool of applicants with demonstrated leadership experience and a desire to mobilize in support of pro-migrant and refugee policies.
In her remarks at the Press Club, Linda Hartke, LIRS President and CEO, acknowledged the commitment of the U.S. government to resettle refugees and called on the U.S. to do even more: “The resources for integration – that are truly an investment in our country’s future – must keep pace with arrivals so that we are not resettling refugees into poverty.” She added that “the ‘long welcome’ – the process of integration, developing social connections, and discovering a sense of belonging – for refugees, migrants and the communities that receive them, makes us [all] more compassionate, more courageous and stronger.”
Shelly Pitterman of UNHCR, in his remarks, encouraged persons to support UNHCR’s #WithRefugees petition, which calls on all governments to work together to ensure that:
- Every refugee child gets an education.
- Every refugee family has somewhere safe to live.
- Every refugee can work or learn new skills to make a positive contribution to their community.
The petition will be delivered to UN headquarters in New York ahead of the UN General Assembly high-level summit to address large movements of refugees and migrants, scheduled for September 19.
In acknowledging that more than 65 million persons are now displaced around the globe, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken remarked that refugee resettlement “challenges us to live up to our common humanity—by providing the same sanctuary that some of our own parents or grandparents sought in times of trouble.” He encouraged attendees “to take a stand against hateful rhetoric that conflates refugees with violent extremists and demonizes those who are fleeing persecution and terrorism.”