Nov. 13, 2012 NEWS RELEASE — Thanksgiving Recalls America’s Refugee Roots

Refugee Council USA Hails New Americans’ Contributions to Economy, Community Renewal

Press Contact: Jon Pattee
202-591-5778, jpattee@lirs.org

WASHINGTON, DC, Nov. 13, 2012 – Thanksgiving, the most uniquely American and immigrant-centered of all holidays, will be greeted this year with gratitude for refugees’ contributions to communities across the nation.

“The Pilgrims and today’s refugees have in common the challenge of beginning anew,” said Dan Kosten, Refugee Council USA (RCUSA) Chair. “Thanksgiving reminds us that, when given a foundation to rebuild their lives, refugees have become successful entrepreneurs, engines of economic growth, and harvesters of fallow land.”

The U.S. Refugee Admissions and Resettlement Program serves people from every region of the world and includes torture survivors, unaccompanied minor children, and victims of sexual and gender-based violence. Some refugees have lived in camps for decades and been deprived of basic human rights. This Thanksgiving, the people who work to welcome and employ refugees will bear witness to the work ethic and community spirit of the people who come to the United States through the program.

Oazie Hill, Branch Manager at TruGreen Landcare in Wilmington, NC, said that one of the best things about employing Burmese refugees on his landscaping work crews has been “giving these guys a chance to work in the United States. They didn’t come here for a handout; they came to work and pull their own weight. It’s been a great experience since day one.”

“Immigrant Entrepreneurs: Creating Jobs and Strengthening the Economy,” a 2012 report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, cites Census data to support the fact that immigrants “are more likely than native workers to choose self-employment and start their own businesses.”

“I’m thankful for the privilege of being a small part of the lives of these courageous refugees, who inspire me daily to advocate for the human rights of all people worldwide,” said Elizabeth Bendure, Assistant Director for Community Integration-Matching Grant at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, one of 25 RCUSA member organizations.

“Thanksgiving reminds Americans to be grateful for the renewal that can come out of harsh exile and migration,” said RCUSA Chairman Kosten. “Many, if not most of us, trace some part of our ancestry to refugees, and America’s lead role in refugee resettlement honors that heritage.”

“Thanksgiving is the time to remember America’s leadership role in helping refugees,” said Kosten. “For many around the globe, America stands for a place of welcome and hospitality, for the opportunity to work for your future, to express your faith or beliefs, and contribute to building a better community.”

Leela Rai came to Concord, New Hampshire after living in a refugee camp in Nepal for many years. Exiled from her native Bhutan along with tens of thousands of other ethnic Nepalis, she spent most of the first two decades of her life waiting for a chance to live freely and determine her own future.

Through resettlement to the United States, Rai has been able to work, access higher education, and pursue a career in health care. Today, Rai serves elderly patients through her work as a nursing assistant, and she wakes up thankful each day for the opportunity to make a contribution.

“Every day I’m at work is a good day,” Rai said. “I’m helping people who really need my help. I feel like I’m serving my own parents.”

Refugee Council USA, established in 2000, is a coalition of organizations committed to welcoming and protecting refugees. The mission of RCUSA is to enhance the capacity, voice and effectiveness of member organizations to advance a mutually agreed upon common agenda of protection and meaningful welcome; advocate globally for the protection, integration and rights of refugees and other populations who are forcibly displaced and at risk; and, build excellence in the U.S. refugee resettlement program through the collaboration of member organizations. Please visit www.rcusa.org to learn more.