For tens of thousands of people, the United States offers an opportunity to start over, as we are the No. 1 resettlement country in the world for refugees.
On June 20, the International Rescue Committee will host World Refugee Day to pay tribute to America’s legacy as a nation that welcomes refugees and helps them thrive. Community West Foundation will help the Refugee Services Collaborative kick off the celebration early by sponsoring a community picnic from 1-4 p.m. Saturday, June 18 at Edgewater Kite Field in Cleveland. Families are encouraged to bring a dish to share and a blanket. There, they can try new foods while meeting some of the hundreds of refugees who have become part of our community in the past few years.
Sadly, we realize many people still have a negative perception of refugees. They are quick to believe common myths about refugees, why they have come here and the impact they have on our country.
Here are just a few reasons why we believe refugees make America great.
Refugees Bring Cultural Diversity
Our country has a long history as a nation of immigrants, which has made us a unique cultural melting pot. Imagine what Cleveland would be like without the wide variety of foods at the West Side Market, the pierogies and kielbasa at the St. Stanislaus Polish Festival or your favorite restaurant in Little Italy. (Is there even such a thing as purely “American” food that hasn’t been influenced in some way by another culture?)
Aside from shaping our diverse local cuisine, refugees have opened our eyes to new music, festivals and traditions.
Refugees Create New Jobs
Refugees bring a variety of skills, ranging from agricultural talents to backgrounds in science and technology. Aside from filling lower-wage farming and service jobs that many Americans can’t or won’t fill, immigrants (some of whom were refugees) have been crucial in developing new products and computer technology that has contributed to millions of new jobs, according to an essay published by the nonpartisan Cato Institute.
Many refugees start their own small businesses. They also create demand for new housing and services, which expands our economy.
A 2012 study of refugees in Cleveland found that while the Refugee Services Collaborative of Cleveland spent $4.8 million on refugee services in 2012, the refugees added a total of 650 jobs and created a total economic impact of $48 million in the same year!
Jesus Was a Refugee
The story of Jesus’ birth tells us Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt to escape the wrath of King Herod, who had ordered the death of all baby boys born in Bethlehem at that time.
The Bible provides clear instructions for how to treat refugees. There are many verses that warn us against oppressing foreigners and tell us we are to leave our door open to travelers.
In a Palm Sunday homily earlier this year, Pope Francis reminded us of this and told European diplomats they were wrong to turn away refugees because of fear and uncertainty.
"Extremism and fundamentalism find fertile soil not only in the exploitation of religion for purposes of power, but also in the vacuum of ideals and the loss of identity—including religious identity—which dramatically marks the so-called West," the pope said. "This vacuum gives rise to the fear which leads to seeing the other as a threat and an enemy, to closed-mindedness and intransigence in defending preconceived notions."
Refugees are part of the fabric of our community. Between 600 and 700 refugees were resettled in Northern Ohio last year. Thanks to organizations like The Refugee Response, Building Hope in the City, Asian Services in Action, Catholic Charities Office of Migration Services and all the members of the Refugee Services Collaborative of Greater Cleveland, they are learning English and new skills that will help them thrive here. We hope you’ll join us for our World Refugee Day picnic June 18 to celebrate how far they’ve come—literally and figuratively.