June 17, 2010 STATEMENT — LIRS World Refugee Day 2010 Statement

Press Contact: Stacy Martin, Vice President for Mission Advancement
410-230-2847, lirspress@lirs.org

BALTIMORE, June 17, 2010—Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) proudly stands in solidarity with refugees and other displaced migrants on World Refugee Day, June 20, 2010. According to a recent United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) report, there are 15.2 million refugees, 27.1 million internally displaced persons and 983,000 asylum-seekers in the world. On World Refugee Day, LIRS expresses our deep appreciation for the continued commitment of local congregations and individuals across the country who, even in these difficult economic times, continue to welcome refugees. However, this day serves as an important reminder that there are millions of refugees and other displaced people who cannot return to their homes and urgently need our country’s protection and assistance.

Lutherans recognize the importance of providing welcome to migrants. Following World War II, one out of every six Lutherans in the world was displaced. In response, 6,000 congregations in the United States opened their homes, churches and communities to assist them. LIRS continues this ministry and in fiscal year 2009 resettled to the United States nearly 11,000 refugees, including many Iraqis, Burmese and Bhutanese. In partnership with the Department of State, the Department of Health and Human Services and state entities, LIRS and our national network of resettlement partners provide services to refugees as they begin their lives anew in the United States. “The U.S. refugee resettlement program is a critical component of our nation’s commitment to providing life saving solutions for refugees and is an example to the world of our faith put in to action offering hospitality and welcome,” said LIRS President and CEO Linda Hartke. “Our nation is stronger and more vibrant as a direct result of the generations of refugees and immigrants we have received and integrated into the fabric of life in local communities.”

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Refugee Act of 1980 which formally established the U.S. refugee program. While there have been many improvements in the types of legal and social services made available to refugees, the country needs a national resettlement program that is more flexible to address the divergent needs of refugees and to more fully engage volunteers and community leaders in the resettlement process. “We also need policies that ensure families who are separated in their search for safety and freedom can be reunified,” remarked Susan Krehbiel, LIRS Vice President for Protection and Programs. “U.S. refugee policy has not kept pace with the causes of refugee movements and changes in our domestic policies over the past 30 years. Now is the time for refugee resettlement reform.”

To ensure a proper welcome for refugees and other vulnerable migrants, LIRS recommends the following:

  • The swift passage of the Refugee Protection Act (S. 3113), legislation introduced by Senators Leahy (D-VT) and Levin (D-MI) that would improve protection of refugees, asylum seekers and other vulnerable migrants.
  • Introduction of legislation to reform the domestic refugee resettlement program to create a more flexible program that better meets the needs of refugees of the 21st century and helps them successfully integrate and become full members of society.
  • Support for robust funding of the Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Refugee Resettlement and the Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.

To help promote awareness of World Refugee Day, on June 16, LIRS hosted a World Refugee Day celebration at our headquarters in Baltimore, MD and this weekend LIRS refugee resettlement partners are organizing events in communities and local churches all across the United States. On June 22, LIRS and Refugee Council USA will sponsor an advocacy day in Washington, DC involving faith leaders, refugees, and other refugee advocates to discuss with policymakers the importance of refugee protection and assistance.

Since 1939 LIRS has assisted and advocated on behalf of refugees, asylum seekers, unaccompanied children, migrants in detention, families fractured by migration and other vulnerable populations. LIRS is the national agency established by Lutheran church bodies in the United States to carry out the churches’ ministry with uprooted people and provides services to migrants and refugees through over 60 legal and social service partners. LIRS is a cooperative agency of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, whose members comprise over 7 million congregants nationwide.

If you have questions about this statement, please contact Eric B. Sigmon, Interim Director for LIRS Washington Office, 202/626-7943, esigmon@lirs.org.

Visit the LIRS World Refuge Day Homepage here.

The LIRS’s statement in support of the Refugee Protection Act can be found here.

A Department of State article about a Bhutanese refugee resettled by Lutheran Social Services of New England can be found here.

UNHCR’s World Refugee Day website can be found here.

UNHCR refugee statistics can be found here.