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Our History

Welcoming new neighbors since 1939.

Our roots are planted in the foundation of support and dignity.

80+ Years of Welcome

From the very beginning, we’ve been an organization of help. During World War II, the first iteration of LIRS (the National Lutheran Council) provided assistance and services for refugees from Germany and Eastern Europe. In the decades since, we’ve been building on that work by expanding our reach and resources for people in search of new beginnings around the world.

There have been many crises that have forced our global neighbors to leave their homes. From help for Hungarians to the crisis in Cuba, conflicts in Uganda, Vietnam, The Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, and more — we’ve been collaborating to provide a safe haven for individuals and families.

Today, our commitment to humanity endures with open arms, open hearts, and open doors. We’re continuing to facilitate new beginnings with economic empowerment, mental health services, and family reunification.

As long as there are people in need of a warm welcome, we’ll be here to help them find firm footing.


Lutheran Roots

The New York-based National Lutheran Council (NLC), founded in 1918 to respond to such post-World War I needs as immigration and refugee resettlement, sets up a Welfare Department with an office for the “rehabilitation and placement of Lutheran refugees.” It helped 522 refugees in its first year of operations.

Following the immediate aftermath of WWII, LIRS resettled 30,263 Displaced Persons from Germany and Eastern Europe.


Help for Hungarians

In October, 1956, student and factory workers of Budapest rose against the Soviet-imposed communist regime. In six days of fighting, they forced government troops to withdraw from the city. But, four days later, Soviet tanks stormed back into the city and crushed the revolution. More than 50,000 Hungarians fled the country. LIRS resettled over 1,500 Hungarian refugees.


Crisis in Cuba

Cuban rebel Fidel Castro overthrows his country’s regime and implements a communist government, triggering a flow of refugees seeking asylum. 100,000 Cuban refugees arrived in Florida and LIRS was invited to assist in their resettlement.


Expanding Our Welcome

Ugandan dictator Idi Amin expels some 75,000 citizens from the country, 2,000 of whom are accepted into the U.S. as “parolees.” LIRS resettles 600 new arrivals as a result.



The defeat of South Vietnam by North Vietnam in April of 1975 triggered a flood of refugees from Southeast Asia. Within weeks, LIRS transformed from a four-staffer operation to a crisis response organization with more than 100 staff members. By the end of the year, LIRS had overseen the resettlement of almost 16,000 refugees.


100,000 and Counting

In 1980, LIRS hit the 100,000 mark in refugees resettled since World War II. In the same year, the American Homecoming Act granted U.S. admission to 10,000 Amerasian children fathered by U.S. citizens. The year also witnessed the passage of the Refugee Act of 1980, which created a permanent and systematic procedure for the admission of refugees of special humanitarian concern to the U.S.


Conflict in The Balkans

In 1993, the first survivors of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia (formerly Yugoslavia) arrived in the U.S. for resettlement. In 1999, 1,700 ethnic Albanians were forced out of Kosovo into Macedonia and eventually resettled by LIRS.


Sudan, Burma, Tibet, Bhutan, Afghanistan & Iraq

At the turn of the new century, LIRS began welcoming “Lost Boys” – young Sudanese refugees who had been separated from their families for a decade or more after fleeing a civil war. In the first decade of this century, LIRS assisted in the settlement of refugees from Burma, Tibet, Bhutan and Iraq, along with ethnic Hmong from refugee camps in Thailand.


The Welcome Endures

After 80+ years of welcome, LIRS and its partners continue answering the call to sponsor and support immigrants and refugees with open doors, open arms, and open hearts—including through an enhanced focus on the Long Welcome and the Empowered Living Experience, which go beyond traditional resettlement to help New Americans not simply survive, but thrive.

In February 2019, LIRS was proud to announce appointment of Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, former Policy Director to First Lady Michelle Obama, as its President and Chief Executive Officer. After her family was forced to flee civil unrest in Sri Lanka, Ms. O’Mara Vignarajah fulfilled the promise of the American Dream, having graduated from Yale and Oxford and understands firsthand the importance of LIRS’s work. On the future of our mission, she says:

“At a time when too many refugees and asylum-seekers are unsure whether they will be welcome in America, I am committed to ensuring that all immigrants seeking a better life in America are afforded the same opportunities that my family received to pursue their dreams in this great nation.”

You can change lives.

Explore the many ways to support LIRS.

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Explore the many ways to support LIRS.

Get Involved