Church World Service is sponsoring several resettled refugees to join former refugees from Syria, Iraq, Rwanda and 20 other nations–all of whom now call the U.S. home– at a Dec. 9 – 10 gathering in the nation’s capital to meet policymakers and to ensure the refugee voice is part of the conversation on U.S. refugee policies and programs.
Refugee and asylee delegates ranging in age from 22 to 56 and living in each of the 50 U.S. states will hold two days of discussions at the 2013 Refugee Congress, followed by a day of meetings on refugee issues with their respective representatives in the U.S. Congress.
“It is crucial that these former refugees have a forum in which they can share their experiences with resettlement and integration into American society, said Erol Kekic, director of the CWS Immigration and Refugee Program. “Their voices are vital to our ongoing advocacy efforts as lawmakers in Washington discuss and decide upon policies that directly affect the lives and well-being of refugees and their host communities in the U.S.”
CWS is one of nine national voluntary agencies that work with the federal government and a nationwide network of local agencies to resettle refugees in communities across the nation.
“The United States resettles more refugees than any other nation and few know more about the process than the people who have been through it,” said Shelly Pitterman, UNHCR regional representative in Washington.
“Everyone wants to make sure that the voices of refugees are heard,” Pitterman said, adding: “The Refugee Congress gives refugees and asylees who have found protection in America the chance to use their knowledge and talents to help others in need.”
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres will deliver a videotaped message to the 2013 Refugee Congress and Anne C. Richard, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration is to address delegates in a plenary session.
“I know first-hand what it is to be a refugee and to start a new life in the United States,” said Khaled Hosseini, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador and author of bestselling novels The Kite Runner, And The Mountains Echoed and A Thousand Splendid Suns.
“Refugees have often had harrowing and traumatic experiences but also experiences of enlightenment and survival. I believe we have important stories to share that can be beneficial to not only other refugees and asylum-seekers but to all people living in the United States,” Hosseini said.
The 2013 Refugee Congress in the United States takes place amid a dramatically worsening crisis for persons fleeing war, violence and persecution in Syria, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere around the world.
UNHCR said Tuesday that around 6,000 people had crossed the border from Syria into eastern Lebanon seeking safety while facing freezing winter conditions.
The 2013 Refugee Congress also comes two years after the inaugural Refugee Congress was held in Washington to mark the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention, the cornerstone document that ensures protection for millions of refugees and other displaced people fleeing danger around the world.
Chris Boian, 202-489-6884, Boian@unhcr.org,
Brian Hansford, UNHCR Spokesperson, Washington, 202-999-8253, Hansford@unhcr.org
Lilli Tnaib, UNHCR Public Information Associate, 202-243-7619, Tnaib@unhcr.org