EMM refugee stories

World Refugee Day is June 20
June 18, 2010

In observance of World Refugee Day June 20, Episcopal Migration Ministries is offering web-based resources and videos that tell the stories of refugees who seek a new start, a new home and a new life.

As designated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, World Refugee Day is an annual observance commemorated by refugee advocates across the world as an opportunity to lift up the concerns of uprooted people globally.

"World Refugee Day provides a context for highlighting the accomplishments these sojourners have achieved and the transformational impact their vitality and ambition have had on their new communities," said EMM Director Deborah Stein.

The Episcopal Church has been extending welcome and support to the uprooted for more than 70 years. Since 1988, EMM has assisted thousands of refugees -- nearly 5,000 in 2009 -- to resettle in cities across the United States.

To commemorate World Refugee Day, EMM, in conjunction with the Episcopal Church Office of Communication, has produced a series of short videos chronicling the inspiring stories of some of the many individuals EMM serves.

On June 22, EMM and the Episcopal Church's Office of Government Relations will join a coalition of faith and community groups in Washington, D.C., to urge Congress to pass needed reforms to the nation's refugee admissions program. Organized by Refugee Council USA, EMM staff members will join other refugee agency executives and faith leaders in visiting members of Congress.

Other World Refugee Day resources include a prayer as well as links to bulletin inserts and other refugee resettlement websites. The videos and resources are available online on a special World Refugee Day page.

The videos offer a window into the lives of people engaged in and affected by EMM's work, from a Burmese caseworker with words of courage, to a refugee family from Bhutan taking their first steps on American soil.

"Refugees arriving in the U.S. are by definition survivors, having overcome persecution, injustice and war to strive for a hopeful new beginning," Stein said.

One video chronicles the initial experiences of a Nepalese family from their arrival at a Louisville, Kentucky, airport to getting their first tour of their new home. While some volunteers met them at the airport, others prepared their house to "make it look like home."

Another module depicts Thlasui "Sui" Tluangneh, a poet who fled the military regime in Burma and now works as a refugee caseworker in Indianapolis, Indiana. He reflects on his experiences in the telling of the poignant story of his poem "Mr. One and Mr. Zero."

The viewer also meets Poku, a Burmese man who first went to a refugee camp in Thailand as a 7-year-old and lived there for 20 years. Although he grew to be a leader and a liaison in the camp, he had no rights and no livelihood.

Elias Kasongo is employed by Eli's Cheesecake Company in Chicago, Illinois; his video depicts his work and his efforts for an education as well as the company's welcome and encouragement in the advancement of their refugee workforce.