By Mark Greenberg, ACF Acting Assistant Secretary
Each year on June 20, the world acknowledges World Refugee Day Visit disclaimer page , and honors the world’s refugees for their strengths, perseverance, courage, and hope for the future.
Over the past 30 years, the United States has welcomed more than 3 million refugees from over 80 countries. Refugees and asylees flee different regions—from the Near East to Asia, Africa and Latin America—due to political and civil unrest, war and genocide. They share a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
Many refugees have waited years or even decades for a place to call home or the opportunity to reunite with loved ones separated by war, violence, or persecution. Along their journeys, they have often experienced denial of basic rights, interruptions to work and education, loss of support networks, separation from their families, and displacement for extended periods in multiple relocations. During their transition to the U.S., they must not only learn a new language, culture, or social norms, but also learn to navigate new systems, including, health, legal, education, social services, and more. And, after they arrive, refugees embrace our country’s opportunities by working hard, opening businesses, purchasing homes, investing in their communities, and serving in government and the armed forces.
In ACF, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) helps with the initial transition of refugees and other resettlement-eligible populations through targeted funding and programs—providing, for example, time-limited job training and English language classes to assist refugees in attaining stable employment as quickly as possible. We provide support to states and non-governmental organizations to provide basic assistance and essential services in their initial months after arriving in the U.S. Community organizations play a crucial role in these efforts.
Across ACF, we are working to encourage human services agencies and programs to support refugee integration. Last year, our Office of Community Services issued a Dear Colleague letter to its Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) stakeholders encouraging partnership to increase refugee stakeholder engagement in local community needs assessments. And the Offices of Child Care and Head Start and ORR put out a call to action to help link the early childhood and resettlement networks to better serve refugees.
ACF also supports President Obama’s interagency White House Task Force Visit disclaimer page on New Americans, which focuses on immigrant integration, with considerable attention to refugees. Established in November 2014, the Task Force recently released a strategic action plan, Strengthening Communities by Welcoming All Residents (PDF) Visit disclaimer page . The Task Force highlights the importance of welcoming communities in promoting successful integration.
ACF continues to expand our refugee work in important ways. We are developing a national parenting strategy that addresses migrant and refugee parents’ cultural, linguistic, and other special needs. We are also exploring ways to ensure meaningful access to our services and programs to individuals with limited English proficiency. I encourage you to learn how refugee integration fits into ACF’s Strategic Plan; and how states, communities, organizations and individuals can play a critical role in building and strengthening welcoming communities.
In honor of World Refugee Day and the 35th anniversary of the creation of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, we celebrate the many achievements of resettled refugees and asylees worldwide who have made significant contributions to their new countries, and our commitment to welcoming refugees and supporting their successful integration as they work to rebuild their lives, become engaged citizens, and live in peace and dignity.
To learn more about ACF’s work to better serve refugees, please visit /informate-june-2015.