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USCCB Sponsors Four Refugees to First UNHCR Refugee Congress, Convenes Its National Resettlement Services Network

August 3, 2011

Refugees will share compelling journey, integration stories with members of U.S. Congress

WASHINGTON (August 3, 2011)—The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is sponsoring four refugees to attend the UNHCR Refugee Congress August 2-4, in Washington. Hailing from Sudan, Yemen, Iraq and Bhutan, these refugees were successfully resettled to the United States by the U.S. bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services (MRS).  They live now in places like Jackson, Mississippi; Charleston, West Virginia; Little Rock, Arkansas; and Chicago and, this week, they will have a chance to share their stories and experiences with other refugees and to participate in an advocacy day, August 4, on the Hill.

To mark the 60th anniversary of the signing of the United Nation’s Refugee Convention, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will hold its first Refugee Congress with refugees from across the country who were resettled at various times throughout the history of the U.S. resettlement program. The congress will bring together over 50 refugees to discuss their resettlement experiences and to provide insight and guidance on how the international community’s response to refugee protection and in particular, resettlement in the U.S., can be strengthened in the future.

Participants will look at ongoing and future challenges in refugee protection and refugee resettlement, and then share their findings and recommendations with their Congressional representatives. They hope their testimonies make an important contribution at a time when refugee admissions to the U.S. have been drastically reduced. The proceedings and recommendations from the Refugee Congress will also be shared at the UNHCR ministerial meeting in Geneva later this year and with other stakeholders involved in U.S. refugee resettlement.

The four refugees sponsored by MRS include:

  1. A Sudanese refugee who arrived as a “lost boy” in 2000 at the age of 17 and is now a foster parent to unaccompanied refugee minors. He is also a leader in the local Sudanese community in Jackson, Mississippi.
  2. A Yemenis refugee, currently based Charleston, West Virginia,  who arrived in the U.S. with his family in 2001 at the age of nine. He recently graduated Valedictorian from his high school and received a full scholarship to attend West Virginia University starting this fall.
  3. An Assyrian Iraqi refugee who arrived in the U.S. in 2009 at the age of 32. He was a successful entrepreneur in Iraq before fleeing to Turkey due to death threats he received because he was educated, successful, and Christian. He is currently pursuing his doctorate and hopes to start another business in the near future. He lives in Little Rock, Arkansas and is very active in advocacy on behalf of Christians still in Iraq and in his campus student association.
  4. A Bhutanese refugee arriving in 2008 at the age of 33. Formerly a teacher in Bhutan, he now provides orientation and other cultural adjustment education to newly arriving refugees as a case aide at his resettlement agency. He is also a leader in the local Bhutanese community in Chicago.

“What people often do not understand is that refugees are legal residents and make positive and productive contributions to the community,” said one of them as he expressed hopes that his testimony and advocacy will help to encourage greater attention to refugees and raise awareness within larger communities about refugees living in their midst.

The UNHCR Refugee Congress coincides with MRS’ annual National Resettlement Convening, August 3-5, which brings together about 170 resettlement directors and other representatives from their network. The convening has several tracks, including children and families, mental health, resource development and program management. Both groups will join together in meeting with their representatives for advocacy day on August 4.
Keywords: refugees, resettlement, Refugee Congress, Migration and Refugee Services, MRS, USCCB, UNHCR

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