Honoring and Celebrating Refugees on World Refugee Day

“Protecting and assisting refugees is a part of our history as a nation, and we will continue to alleviate the suffering of refugees abroad, and to welcome them here at home, because doing so reflects our American values and our noblest traditions as a nation, enriches our society, and strengthens our collective security.”

President Obama

Every year, on World Refugee Day, communities across the globe honor the courage and resilience of refugees and celebrate their contributions to the communities where they have started life anew.  

As the President highlighted in his World Refugee Day statement, this year’s commemoration comes at an especially challenging time.  More people are fleeing persecution and being displaced by violence than at any time on record. That’s why the President has challenged his team – and world leaders – to do even more in response to today’s unprecedented challenge.   

At the White House, we are honored to work alongside a deeply committed team that is focused on strengthening our response to the needs of refugees around the world. Our colleagues at the Departments of State and Homeland Security are working hard to meet the President’s goal of admitting 85,000 refugees this year, including at least 10,000 Syrian refugees, and to prepare to resettle even more refugees next year, a process that involves extensive reviews and security screenings.  And the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is providing resettled refugees with critical resources to fully integrate and maximize their potential once they arrive.

We are also preparing for the President’s Leaders’ Summit on Refugees, which will take place later this year on the margins of the 71st session of the UN General Assembly.  At this global gathering, President Obama and other world leaders are seeking to generate broader and deeper commitments to increase humanitarian aid for refugees, provide refugees in more countries with new resettlement opportunities, and help more children go to school and allow adults to work and support themselves and their families.  

But today, we took time to host a very special meeting at the White House that allowed us to hear from resettled refugees, heads of refugee resettlement organizations, and state and local officials.  It was inspiring to learn about the tremendous work taking place across the country to welcome and integrate refugees into their communities.  It was heartening to hear the stories of everyday Americans who are stepping up by volunteering at local refugee-serving organizations, donating to international humanitarian organizations offering assistance abroad, and lending a hand to refugees starting their lives here in the United States.  The resettled refugees in the group –who hailed from Burma, Colombia, Sierra Leon, Syria, and Vietnam – were the real guests of honor. They shared their moving stories of perseverance in their journeys to the United States and their hopes for what the future will hold.  

White House refugee eventAcross the Administration, many others commemorated World Refugee Day.  

Last week, Deputy National Security Advisor Avril Haines spoke at an event where she shared the story of a young boy from Syria who wrote to President Obama about the significant hardships he and his family have faced and his hopes for his new life as a resettled refugee in the Boston area.

And today, White House staff met with refugees in Washington for a Refugee and Migrant Leadership Academy, hosted by Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, one of the major refugee resettlement agencies. 

Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson will deliver  and swear in new citizens at a naturalization ceremony for 20 candidates, many of them former refugees or asylees, at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park.  Secretary Johnson also shared the story of a young boy, Jaafar, who he met in Turkey.  

Deputy Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director León Rodríguez also participated in a special naturalization ceremony at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC.  

And later today, Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with interfaith leaders, refugees who have been resettled to the United States, and representatives from refugee resettlement organizations.  He will also give remarks as a part of an interfaith iftar at the ADAMS center, a mosque located in Sterling, Virginia, which has a strong history and record of working with interfaith partners to support the resettlement of refugees.

Finally, several the U.S. Mission to the United Nations and the HHS, and USCIS lifted up stories of resettled refugees who are making contributions to their communities through media campaigns.

With all that is going on in the world, it is more important than ever that we honor our unique tradition as a nation with a deep history of welcoming immigrants and refugees by recognizing and helping those that we can. Today is an occasion for us to recognize the importance of providing refuge to those uprooted by violence and persecution. It is a day to honor their contributions to our nation. It is a day to thank communities who are doing their part to welcome refugees. It is also a day to recommit ourselves to this important work. 

On this World Refugee Day we honor our nation’s legacy by focusing on doing our utmost to welcome refugees, expand their opportunities to succeed, and support refugee protection efforts all over the world. 

Amy Pope is Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Homeland Security Advisor.