USCRI: U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants

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Refugee Voices

Putting a human face on the plight of refugees, immigrants, child migrants, and victims of trafficking

Migrant Children 

Attorney Brings a Child Migrant One Step Closer to Achieving His Childhood Dream
A teenager from El Salvador, sitting in his lawyer’s office, could not contain his ear-to-ear smile. The woman next to him, his half-sister, was weeping. But the tears she was wiping off her face were those of joy.  More than three years after coming to the United States, the boy, Luis, finally heard the good news: his green card arrived... Read more >>  

College Graduate from Nigeria Battles Genetic Disorder while Pursuing Lifelong Dream
When Victor Chukwueke saw his mother walk into the baggage claim area of the Detroit Metro Airport, he ran into her arms, hugging her tightly.  Looking at each other in disbelief, they held one another for the next five minutes, almost afraid to let go.  The last time the mother and son (both pictured below during their reunion) saw each other was when Victor, now 25, left Nigeria to live in the United States at the age of 15... Read more >>

Emmy-Winning Film Documents the Life-Threatening Journey of Unaccompanied Child Migrants
USCRI sat down with director Rebecca Cammisa, whose Emmy-winning documentary, Which Way Home, brings much needed attention to the plight of children traveling thousands of miles through South and Central America to the United States. Each year, about 8,000 children, frequently led by smugglers, are stopped by the authorities as they try to cross the North American border…  Read more >> 

Pro Bono Attorney Helps Reunite a Child from El Salvador with Her Family in America
“There is nothing I can do to help your case.”  The immigration attorney barely finished his sentence when the world came crashing down for 16-year-old Deysi Torres.  She did not have to speak English to know what he meant—the lawyer’s tone and grim facial expression clearly conveyed the hopelessness of her situation…  Read more >>

Notes from the Field 

Delegation Travels to El Salvador to Address the Needs of Unaccompanied Immigrant Children
Alone. Tired. Confused. Hopeful. Every year, thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America and Mexico attempt to cross the US border and are overwhelmed by the range of emotions they experience. Traveling dangerously on the tops of trains, by bus, or on foot, migrant children are fleeing gang violence, persecution, and abusive homes. Others are hoping to join a parent already living in the U.S. or arrive in search of economic opportunity. Most unaccompanied immigrant children are boys between the ages of 15-17, but children as young as five-years old are increasingly turning up at the border—hidden by smugglers and traffickers. Read more >>

Syria/Jordan Border 
The border between Syria and Jordan is a place of uncertainty. After escaping violence in Syria, refugees at the border find immediate safety, but their futures are still in peril. Here at USCRI, we've seen far too many times that refugees' rights are forgotten during periods of transition. So we are traveled to the Syria/Jordan border to assess the situation on the ground. Read more >>

Haiti: Notes from the Field 
Shortly after the horrific earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of Haitians and left a million more homeless, USCRI's Sarah Petrin Williamson arrived in Haiti to help Haitians find relief and temporary shelter and to make sure that the human rights of all Haitians are protected during the long rebuilding process to come. She is working with our local partner, Groupe d'Appui aux Rapatries et Refugies (GARR) the Support Group for Refugees and Returnees. What she saw was heartbreaking…  Read more >>

Haitian-Americans Search for Loved Ones
Thousands of Americans of Haitian descent and others with friends and relatives in Haiti have been incessantly calling, impatiently waiting, and deeply worrying as they try to connect with their loved ones who might have survived the devastating earthquake. Lack of electricity to charge cell phones and the sheer magnitude of destruction and ensuing chaos has made this process extremely difficult…  Read more >>

LOST Star Stands Up for Refugee Rights in Ethiopia
Actor Ken Leung accompanied USCRI on a nine-day journey through northern Ethiopia, where tens of thousands of Eritrean refugees live in camps.  Leung, 40, witnessed firsthand the conditions in which these men, women, and children—who have fled war and violence in their native country—live for years on end ... Read more >>

Reporting on the Plight of Colombian Refugees
USCRI’s Lee Williams recently traveled with representatives from other voluntary agencies to Panama and Ecuador to witness first-hand how Colombian refugees are being treated.  Over 250,000 Colombians—50,000 of whom are registered as refugees—currently live in Ecuador and more than 100,000 in Panama...Read more >>

USCRI Reports from the Haiti-Dominican Republic Border
Since the January 12 earthquake that ravaged Haiti, USCRI and our local partner organization Groupe d'Appui aux Rapatries et Refugies (GARR) have worked tirelessly to provide protection monitoring for those made homeless by the devastating event. Traveling toward the border region of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, our staff members found spontaneous settlements of internally displaced people (IDPs) who fled to these rural surroundings seeking food and shelter…  Read more >>

Human Trafficking 

National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention
Modern-day slaves live among us, in our neighborhoods and cities across the country.  They are forced into sexual exploitation or forced labor and can be any age, race, or gender.... Read more >> 

Something to Be Thankful For: USCRI's New National Program Benefits Victims of Human Trafficking
This Thanksgiving, Rissa Obcemea will have no problem coming up with a list of things to be thankful for.  That’s because Rissa, a Program Officer with the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), is reminded every single day how fortunate she is.  She has the ability to move freely from place to place, to laugh with friends at a café in the sunshine, to pursue a career of her choosing and be paid for the work she performs... Read more >>  

Refugee Resettlement 

A New Spot for Traditional Food
Where can you buy baba ghanoush?  If you live within USCRI’s national network, chances are that you can find it at a store owned by refugees.  Family-owned grocery stores are cropping up all over the United States thanks to resettled refugees’ entrepreneurial spirit and desire for food from home.   Winooski, VT is one town benefiting from refugees’ work ethic and business acumen... Read more >>

Celebrating Culture and Diversity through Food
Across America, refugees and immigrant families are whipping up traditional dishes that bring back memories of home.  As a way of thanking you for your support, USCRI asked our colleagues and refugee clients to share with you their favorite recipes for specialties from their home country or dishes they were introduced to while working overseas. The result: an eclectic selection of mouthwatering delicacies from across the globe sure to turn any dinner occasion into a feast to remember... Read more >>

Celebrating World Refugee Day with Neighbors New and Old
June 17 was a day of fun, food, and festivities.  Refugee families, volunteers, staff, and other community members—both young and old—converged on Veterans Park in Warren, MI to commemorate the struggles and honor the accomplishments of refugees in light of World Refugee Day (officially on June 20).  This year is extra special for us at USCRI: It marks our organization’s100th anniversary... Read more >> 

Dearborn: Home Away from Home for Iraqi Refugees
“There are parts of the city that for many Iraqis and other Arabs feel like being back home,” said Veronica Marroki, an employee of the Dearborn, Mich., field office of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), which helps refugees start a new life in the greater Detroit area. “It’s a close-knit community,” she said of the 300,000 some Arabs living in the Detroit area.  “Most store owners in Arab parts of town will speak to you in Arabic when you enter their shop… Read more >> 

Finding Common Ground in Soccer
Take a sunset stroll along Lincoln Park on any given Monday and chances are, you’ll hear a chorus of cheers in a conglomeration of languages as you walk past the open field.  You might hear an exclamation in Arabic here, a few French shouts there, and some Swahili and English phrases thrown in for good measure.  A closer look will reveal a lively ball game, in which the players are young and old, male and female--their backgrounds as diverse as the United Nations.  What's going on here, you might ask... Read more >>

Former Vietnamese Refugee Dedicates Life to Helping Others
Having survived the horrors of war, endured sexual assaults in a refugee camp, and battled with depression, Suzie Dong-Matsuda found strength and courage in her work as a psychologist…  Read more >>

From Taliban rule to Career and Motherhood in the United States
Frishta* has lived many lives in her thirty-some years. Born in Kabul, she suffered under the Taliban, fled to Pakistan as a refugee and eventually had the opportunity to resettle in the United States… 
Read more >> 

Furnishing a Home for a Refugee Family
Did you ever wonder what happens on refugees' first day in Albany? How do they get from the airport to where they need to go? And where do they go? ... Read more >>

Liberian Student Seeks to Empower Refugees Through Education
Much like fellow students at Clark University in Worcester, MA, Jenkins Macedo spends most of his time attending class, completing research projects, and studying.  But what makes the 24-year-old graduate student stand apart from most of his classmates is his past: He spent 14 years living as a refugee in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Ivory Coast, and Ghana... Read more >>

Local Community Comes Together to Discuss a Film About Diversity and Change in America
“What does the word refugee mean?” asked a twentysomething audience member at the Galaxy Cinema in Cary, NC, as soon as the film credits stopped rolling and the lights came on.  The theater was filled to capacity with locals of all ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds who came to the screening of “Welcome to Shelbyville,” a film about a rural town in Tennessee grappling with the rapid demographic changes in its community... Read more >> 

Make Art, Not War: An Iraqi/American Mural Project Fosters a Culture of Peace through Children's Artwork
The Statue of Liberty stands in solidarity with a golden-yellow mosque. An Iraqi flag flutters in the distance. A flock of birds flies across the bright blue sky.  Where can you find these idyllic images all in one place? On a collection of murals by Americans, local Iraqi refugee children, and students from a school in Baghdad. The artwork is a part of the Iraq Art Mile (IAM), a creation of the Iraqi Children's Art Exchange…  Read more >>

Refugee Children Start the New School Year in Albany  
Imagine navigating the ins and outs of the education system without speaking fluent English, knowing the difference between kindergarten and first grade, or ever having heard of a P.T.A.? Where would you begin?  If you are a newly arrived refugee in the Capital Region, you might turn to the staff and volunteers of USCRI Albany to make sure your children start the school year off right... Read more >>

Together at Last: Iraqi Refugee Reunites with Family
At around 10 o’clock on a morning much like any other, thirtysomething Basma (pictured right) walked out the door of her Baghdad apartment and hopped in her car.  In a rush to run a few quick errands, she decided to take the side roads, hoping to avoid the usual traffic congestion along the main street.  What seemed like a good idea at first, turned into a nightmare… Read more >>  

USCRI Wins the 2010 North Carolina Peace Prize for Helping Refugees Build New Lives in North Carolina
Each year, the North Carolina Peace Corps Association (NCPCA) recognizes a non-profit organization in the Tar-Heel state that best promotes peace and cross-cultural understanding and shares the "helping others help themselves" philosophy of the Peace Corps.  "We are deeply honored to receive the North Carolina Peace Prize," said USCRI North Carolina Director, Shirley Thoms. "We feel a kinship with NCPCA and many of the Peace Corps' goals mirror our work here in the Triangle," Thoms explained.  Read more >>

Vietnamese Father and Son Reunite in Michigan
February is a special month for 18-year-old Nhan Cao Phan.  This month, one year ago, marks the happiest time in the life of the Vietnamese refugee.  On Feb. 26, 2010, Nhan and his father, Sang Van Phan, were reunited after being separated for more than a decade.  Read more >>


$100 Ways to Raise $100 for Refugees and Immigrants 
Those sit-ups won’t do themselves. This is a lesson I learn every February when I give up on my ambitious resolution to get in tip-top soccer shape. Luckily, I’m not alone. In fact, 88% of those who set New Year’s resolutions don’t succeed. Sound familiar? How about trying something different in 2013? Make this your New Year’s resolution: raise $100 for refugees and immigrants. Read more >>

Albanian Volunteer Knows What It Means to Start Over in a New Country
All too often, men, women, and children around the world are forced to flee from war and persecution on a moment’s notice, leaving behind their homes, their countries, their lives.  Spending years in refugee camps, their only chance to rebuild their lives is by being resettled in another country, such as the United States.  Read more >> 

American Volunteers and Iraqi Refugees Become Friends for Life
Since 2003, more than 45,000 Iraqis have been resettled in the United States as refugees or special immigrant visa (SIV) cases. Most are spread out thinly across the country and lack a support network of fellow expatriates to lean back on. Local volunteers are helping these newcomers find a home away from home in their new communities…  Read more >>

Banking on the Future: Helping Refugees Navigate the U.S. Financial System
How do you choose the right bank account?  How do you budget your money and save for the future?  How do you establish good credit?  Some of these questions can be mind-boggling for most Americans, let alone recently arrived refugees who often find the whole concept of credit cards, savings accounts, and in some cases money itself, entirely foreign… Read more >>

Displaced for the Third Time: Four Refugee Families Forced to Start Over After Fire
Having escaped from ethnic and religious persecution in their native Burma and survived more than a decade in refugee camps in Thailand, four refugee families resettled in Albany were forced to leave their homes and seek shelter once again.  
This time they were fleeing from a fire in the adjacent building on Grand Street, where they had only recently begun to rebuild their livesRead more >>

Eagle Scout Inspires Outpouring of Support for Refugees in Erie
A high school student in Erie, PA, set out on an ambitious Eagle Scout project: to collect 250 household and clothing items for newly arrived refugees who came to Erie seeking freedom and opportunity.  Jeremy Schroeck wanted to help these individuals and families resettled through the International Institute of Erie (IIE) feel welcome and at home in their new community... Read more >>

Helping a Single Mother from Burma Provide a Better Future for Her Baby
Jennifer Cakir from Cleveland, OH, lends a helping hand to a recently resettled Burmese refugee and a new mom, whose family is a world away in a refugee camp in Thailand. Approximately 140,000 Burmese live in refugee camps in Thailand, having fled on-going violence and human rights abuse by their government. About one fourth of those refugees have been confined to refugee camps for over two decades…  Read more >>

Mother-Daughter Team Helps a Bhutanese Family Start Over in Vermont
Americans across the nation are volunteering to help recently arrived refugees begin a new life in the United States. Two such volunteers, Leigh Williams and her daughter Camille, help a Bhutanese refugee family from Nepal start over in Vermont. Some 110,000 Bhutanese refugees, most of whom fled ethnic cleansing in their homeland in the early 1990s, continue to languish in refugee camps in Nepal. Leigh shares her volunteering experience with USCRI…  Read more >> 

Refugees Deserve to Be Counted, Says Volunteer
Every week, Debbie Taylor and her husband, Kevin, drive to downtown Albany to volunteer at the home of a newly arrived Karenni refugee family from Burma.  But a recent visit did not consist of the usual reading session with the little ones… Read more >>

Warehoused Refugees 

A Young Refugee's Quest to Return to a Homeland She Never Knew
Senia Bachir Abderahman's fondest childhood memories were the evenings she spent with her grandmother, both of them sitting on the soft, cool sand of the Algerian desert, looking up at the star-studded sky. Though she had completely lost her sight, her grandmother, Asisa, remembered the position of the planets and stars and would teach Senia about astronomy. But often, which is what Senia cherished the most about these nights, her thoughts would drift off into the past and she would start telling stories about the old country, a place Senia never knew… Read more >>  

After Childhoods Spent in Refugee Camps, Three Sudanese Friends Find Hope in America
Jakob Kon and his friends Chol Dakbai and Majier Majuch are three of tens of thousands of Lost Boys who fled the Sudanese civil war of the 1980s by walking hundreds of miles across the blistering hot desert to Ethiopia, back to Sudan, and then into Kenya.  Many of these children died along the treacherous journey.  Others, like Kon, Dakbai, and Majuch, spent their teen and early adult years in refugee camps before being resettled in the United States. This is their story.  Read more >>

Everyone Speaks Soccer
Call it soccer or football, the sport is a universal language for refugees and nationals in Kampala, where players of different nationalities, ethnicities, and tribes unite for a common goal: victory. The only thing that makes one different from the next person is skill, which levels the playing field for the students at Amani Football Academy in Kampala. Started in March 2008 by a group of refugee youth leaders, Amani has grown with the support of international donors to become a thriving organization building bridges between refugees and their hosts…  Read more >>

Fighting to Rebuild His Life: One Refugee’s Story of War, Loss, and Personal Triumph
"Msitoke inje, msitoke inje tumevamiwa," soldiers were yelling in Swahili, instructing the people of Kalemie in the Southeastern Democratic Republic of Congo not to leave their homes. "Don't come out! Don't come out! We're being attacked by Banyamulenge," continued their warnings, which were soon drowned by the sound of machine guns, heavy artillery, and explosives…  Read more >> 

On the Run: Burundian Refugee Recalls the Day His Refugee Camp Was Attacked
This is the story of Mukiza Noel, a young Burundian man who lived most of his life as a refugee. His parents fled Burundi in April of 1972 to escape massacres and killings targeted at the country's Hutu population. They found safety in Rwanda, where Mukiza -- the fifth of eight children -- was born seven years later…  Read more >>

Sahrawi Refugees—Warehoused and Forgotten in the Sahara Desert
Sahrawi refugees are among the longest warehoused refugee groups in the world. In a situation lasting over 30 years, more than 90,000 refugees wait in four remote refugee camps -- El Aaiun, Awserd, Smara, and Dakhla -- in the desolate Sahara desert in southwest Algeria...  Read more >>

Thai Students Compete to Revitalize the Impoverished Burma Border
And the winner is… Green Day!  Not to be confused with the popular U.S. music group, Green Day is a team of Thai university students who won a recent business plan competition hosted by the Thailand office of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI).  The idea behind the contest was for both graduate and undergraduate students in Thailand to come up with a creative business strategy to help jump-start economic growth in the poverty-stricken Thai communities along the Burmese border…  Read more >>

Thailand's Movie Star Professes: "Working with Refugees Changed My Life"
Actress Diana Chungjintanakarn, the first Goodwill Ambassador of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) in Thailand, discusses her (real-life) role as a spokesperson for thousands of refugees warehoused for decades along the Thailand-Burma border. Diana opens up about the Thai people’s—and up until recently, her own—lack of knowledge about the existence of refugee camps on their country’s soil and her mission to raise refugee awareness one person at a time...  Read more >>

Thailand: Revitalizing the Local Economy and Helping End Refugee Warehousing
“From a distance, the camps look amazing.  You just see hills covered in lush greenery and bamboo roof huts peeking through the trees,” said American nonprofit worker Jessica Hansen, recalling her first impression of the cluster of refugee camps along the Thailand-Burma border.  “I was awestruck by the natural beauty of the scenery…”  Read more >>

Too Many African Nations Fail Refugees
Kenya, Congo-Kinshasa, and South Africa each got a failing grade on USCRI's refugee report card for not adequately protecting refugees from violence and forcing refugees back across the border. Both Sudan and South Africa scored an F for arbitrarily detaining more than 200 refugees and denying them access to courts. Tanzania even made USCRI's Worst-Country-for-Refugees list for not letting refugees leave the camp and not allowing them to seek work. Refugees across the continent continue to suffer because governments are not living up to their commitment to refugees…  Read more >>

100th Anniversary 

Artist behind USCRI’s “Out of Many One” Poster Project Raises Awareness of Refugee and Immigrant Issues through Painting 
In light of its milestone 100th birthday, USCRI is debuting “Out of Many One,” an art exhibit created by Washington, D.C.-based artist Joel Bergner.  Each of the 10 unique posters depicts a decade of our organization’s history of protecting the rights and rebuilding the lives of refugees and immigrants.  Rich in color, intricate details, traditional patterns, iconic images, and historic landmarks, each compelling piece tells a story... Read more >>  

In Celebration of World Refugee Day USCRI Debuts "Out of Many One" Poster Series
Every year on World Refugee Day, June 20, communities around the globe commemorate the struggles and honor the accomplishments of refugees.  This year is extra special for USCRI: it marks 100 years of service to those fleeing war and persecution. In light of this milestone, we are debuting “Out of Many One,” an art exhibit created by artist Joel Bergner... Read more >>

All Stories 

100 Ways to Raise $100 for Refugees and Immigrants • A New Spot for Traditional FoodAchieving His Childhood Dream • Albanian Volunteer Knows What It Means to Start Over • American Volunteers and Iraqi Refugees ● Artist behind USCRI's "Out of Many One" Poster Project • Attorney Helps Migrant Child Achieve Dream • A Young Refugee’s Quest ● Banking on the Future ● Celebrating World Refugee Day with Neighbors • Celebrating Culture through Food • College Graduate from Nigeria • Dearborn: Home Away from HomeDebuting "Out of Many One" Poster Series• Displaced for the Third Time • Eagle Scout Inspires Support • Everyone Speaks Soccer ● Fighting to Rebuild His Life ● Finding Common Ground in Soccer • From Taliban Rule to Career and MotherhoodFurnishing a Home • Haitian-Americans Search for Loved OnesHaiti: Notes from the FieldHelping a Single Mother from BurmaLiberian Student Empowers Refugees • Local Community and Refugees Come Together in NC • LOST Star Stands Up for Refugee RightsMake Art, Not War ● Mother-Daughter Team HelpsOn the Run ● "Out of Many One" Artist Talks to USCRI • Pro Bono Attorney Helps Reunite a Child  Refugee Children Start School • Refugees Deserve to Be CountedReporting on the Plight of Colombian Refugees • Sahrawi RefugeesSomething to Be Thankful ForThai Students Compete ● Thailand’s Movie Star Professes ● Thailand: Revitalizing the Local EconomyThree Sudanese Friends Find Hope in America • Together at LastToo Many African Nations Fail USCRI Debuts "Out of Many One" Poster SeriesUSCRI Reports from the Haiti-DR Border ● USCRI Wins NC Peace Prize • Vietnamese Father and Son Reunite • Vietnamese Refugee Dedicates Life  

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