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Giving Thanks: Inspiration from Buffalo, New York


Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
December 2, 2013

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Dear Friends and Colleagues:


I think most of us would agree that the best part of our jobs working with refugees is the chance to meet individuals and organizations who inspire us with their stories of strength and determination. As Thanksgiving was approaching, I had one such experience, reminding me once again of how our nation is enriched by the welcoming character and generous spirit that makes our refugee programs a success.

Officials in the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, including myself, carve out time whenever we can to meet our partners, whether they be resettlement agencies, community stakeholders, or elected officials, around the country. Earlier this month, I flew to Buffalo, New York, to meet with these partners and officials, as well as with many of the refugees that have resettled in the city. One refugee I met, named George, was a young Congolese student who arrived in the United States a year ago after a harrowing journey through Uganda, Ethiopia, and Kenya. Now studying to obtain his Graduate Equivalency Exam (GED), he Date: 12/02/2013 Description: Letters to Community (Dec. 2013): Deputy Assistant Secretary Simon Henshaw during a visit to Buffalo, New York. - State Dept Image

rides a bus an hour each way to attend classes, has become an accomplished fencer in his high school, and hopes one day to obtain a scholarship to study biochemistry at university. “Every day I think about taking the GED,” he told me. “Now I have opportunity.”

Buffalo provides such opportunities to more than 1,300 refugees every year and the city’s spirit of cooperation and pride in helping refugees was inspiring. Buffalonians – from its city council members to its community volunteers and business owners – have welcomed their new neighbors with open arms and are keenly aware that support provided in the months after arrival pays off down the road, helping create a new generation of property owners, business leaders, taxpayers, and long-term residents.

This investment in refugees is really producing benefits. Employment outcomes are strong, assisted by 501(C)3 nonprofits like the Date: 12/02/2013 Description: Letters to Community (Dec 2013): candymaker in factory - State Dept ImageWest Side Bazaar, which has outgrown its original space due to its success, and private ventures like Landies Candies, where the majority of the staff are refugees. Education is a key to refugee success, and Buffalo’s efforts were, frankly, dazzling. At Public School 45, where more than half of the students are English-language learners, school administrators work with resettlement agencies to provide coaching for new students and interpretation for parents at teacher events. At Catholic Charities, English-language training programs run all day long and at night, even in the home, and child care is provided to prevent any barrier to integration during those critical first 90 days of a refugee’s life in America. We also dropped in on an alternative high school that prepares refugees and other 17-21 year-old English-language learners for the GED exam. Without this program, many of these older students who came to the United States in their late teens would not attain enough credits to graduate from high school before “aging out” at 21.

Looking back, the end of the 2013 fiscal year was particularly momentous for the U.S. Refugee Admission Program, when for the first time since 1980, we met the target the President set for refugee admissions. That goal was 70,000 refugees and we brought in 69,930. The refugee admissions program is an incredibly complex process, and reaching our goal is a success we can all share. Nearly 70,000 refugees got a new start in the United States thanks to the tremendous cooperation among federal, state and local governments and agencies, international organizations, local nongovernmental charitable organizations, and communities throughout our country.

President Obama has authorized the admission of up to 70,000 refugees in 2014. We expect to admit more than 60 nationalities with continued strong arrivals from Iraq, Burma, and Bhutan. As many of you are aware, we are also working to increase Congolese and Syrian arrivals, given the numbers in need of protection through resettlement.

We remain committed to doing everything in our power to live up to our values and to meet the needs of the world’s most vulnerable people, and while listening to community concerns so they can share in the successes. The refugee resettlement program certainly reflects the best values of the United States and I would like to thank you for your extraordinary efforts; working together as partners paved the way for this success. We look forward to working with you in the new year.

Warmly,

Simon Henshaw



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