2013 Refugee Congress: Empowering Refugee Voices — National Action Alert

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Jihan Daman (L) and a fellow delegate (R). Photo Credit: Rachel Hodel
Jihan Daman (L) and a fellow delegate (R).
Photo Credit: Rachel Hodel

Our Advocacy team here at LIRS works nonstop to raise the voices of migrants and refugees in Congress. Today, I’m exited to bring you an update by Rachel Hodel, Advocacy Intern for LIRS, and Rosalynd Erney, Advocacy Fellow for LIRS, on their experience at the recent 2013 Refugee Congress.

The word ‘refugee’ doesn’t immediately evoke the image of a strong, empowered Iraqi woman who runs her own nonprofit in Michigan to help pregnant refugee mothers and trauma survivors.  Nor does it conjure the mental picture of an independent, passionate student from Darfur who started an organization for other young refugees from Darfur.  The refugees we met last week embodied exactly these descriptions of strength, selflessness, and resilience.

On December 11, five members of LIRS’s staff served as escorts to delegates from the UNHCR’s 2013 Refugee Congress—an event in Washington, D.C. that gathered 48 refugees originating from 23 different countries and representing almost every state and the District of Columbia. The refugee and asylee delegates met with their senators and representatives in Congress to ensure the refugee voice is part of the conversation on U.S. refugee policies and programs.  Each delegate signed a letter to members of Congress with this demand.

The delegates shared many of their personal stories and challenges in acclimating to life in the United States. As a refugee from Iraq, Jihan Daman, pictured in front of the Capitol with another 2013 Refugee Congress delegate, put herself through college and earned a master’s degree in social work. She recently established a nonprofit called St. Rita’s Hands of Hope in her community of Livonia, Michigan.

Another participant, Ekhlas Ahmed, came to Maine from Sudan in 2005 and graduated from high school with honors. She is currently a college student.  Ms. Ahmed also founded Darfur Youth of Tomorrow and is working on a poetic autobiography called The Bridge Between, which explores her personal story, the story of Sudan, and the gap between the older and younger Sudanese generations.

In addition to sharing their journeys, the delegates spoke from their own experience on policy issues affecting resettled refugees across the United States surrounding the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program, lack of sufficient funding for the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s (ORR) programs, and the dire need for services for unaccompanied migrant children.

The United States resettles more refugees than any other country in the world, and these refugees make important contributions to our schools, businesses, congregations, and communities.  LIRS was honored to escort Ms. Daman and Ms. Ahmed as they shared their experiences and their recommendations directly with their members of Congress.  As their letter to Congress eloquently states, “the voices of all refugees [should] be heard, and the real faces and stories behind every statistic about forcibly displaced people [should] not be forgotten by the American people.”

The dedication and passion of the 2013 Refugee Congress delegates was inspirational.  We encourage members of Congress to heed their calls and we look forward to the great work these passionate delegates will undoubtedly accomplish. Join us by visiting the LIRS Action Center and calling on your representative to support the Iraqi SIV Extension.

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