Politics of Poverty

Reasons to rally for refugees: Celebration, commemoration, and contemplating the future

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Members of the #OrangeVest performance group walk by the Washington Monument on the way to the DC Rally 4 Refugees. (Photo: Rebecca Gilbert / Oxfam America)

We hope you’ll join us in action.

This blog was co-authored by Rebecca Gilbert, Campaign Coordinator at Oxfam America, and Elliot Sangara, Intern for Humanitarian Policy at Oxfam America.

On August 28th, hundreds of people united at the Washington Monument on the National Mall. Supporters of the US refugee resettlement program danced as Guinean refugee Pivot Zotamou rapped about his experiences and witnessed the powerful #OrangeVest performance circle the monument in solitude to represent the thousands who crossed oceans to save themselves and their families.

Rally participants were diverse. I met refugee families who came to America to raise a family, their children first generation US citizens. I met young girls who moved to the United States at an early age to get a better education, but have since been bullied because of their appearance. I met activists who just returned from volunteering at refugee camps in Greece, filled with a renewed passion to make change at home. Everyone was there for the same reason: to raise awareness of the global refugee crisis and to urge the US government to take action.

The gathering brought reason for celebration – namely, the US’s fulfillment of its commitment to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees – and reminded us that we need to do more.

Sara Browning, cofounder and executive director at Split this Rock, began the rally with a call to Congress.   “Refugees live an average of seventeen years in refugee camps, and one third of refugees worldwide are from Syria and Iraq–and yet the US has committed to resettling only 10,000 Syrian refugees.  It’s our jobs here today, to tell our elected officials up here on the hill and over there in the White House that our hearts and our country is big enough to welcome our neighbors from around the world.  We’re calling for at least a doubling of refugee resettlement in this country.”

While the US’ efforts are important and worth celebrating, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the scale of the crisis, which has seen 5 million Syrians flee since 2011, according to DCRally4Refugees.

Several refugees explained the vital role a welcoming and supportive community plays in assimilating to a new culture.  Pivot Zotamou, a refugee from Guinea and a member of the organization Soccer without Borders, discussed the role communities play in accepting refugees.

“In 2009 my family and I had to follow [my dad] to Senegal where life got so very difficult for us, so we had to transfer to Mali where we got our asylee visas to come to the United States.  So we came to Baltimore in 2010, it was like a new journey for us because everything was new especially the culture and the language.”

Syrian refugees have been placed in 231 towns and cities across the United States.  To create a more comfortable assimilation process, the government has placed refugees in areas where there are other Syrians immigrants.

Oxfam America is actively working to improve conditions for displaced people by providing vital aid to refugees in the Middle East and beyond.

Over 65 million people worldwide have been forced to leave their homes because of violence, persecution and war. The time is now for solidarity and compassion, and for us to open our minds and our borders. We must stand as one with the millions of people who have been forced to flee by unifying our efforts in urging world leaders to act.

Here is what you can do to help:

  1. Call your Member of Congress. Oxfam America is joining a nationwide group of faith-based organizations, humanitarian organizations, community organizations, and their supporters will call their members of Congress to ask for support for refugees. Call 1-866-940-2439 to speak to your Representative and 1-866-961-4293 to speak to your Senator to tell them that you support refugee resettlement and want to see the US resettle more refugees by calling for Congress to increase funding for refugee assistance internationally and refugee resettlement in the US.
  1. Sign our petition to tell political leaders that they must protect the US refugee resettlement program.

Your actions are timely. Congress is discussing the budget for refugee resettlement in the US and some are attempting to cut funding. At the same time, President Obama is expected to soon announce the US government refugee resettlement goals for the coming fiscal year, starting on October 1.

On top of all this, global leaders will meet in New York September 19-20 for historic twin summits to discuss the global refugee and migration crisis. More than 200,000 Oxfam supporters around the world have joined us to Stand As One and to support refugees and migrants. Oxfam staff across the world will be meeting with governments in their capitals this week to discuss our concerns and we’ll have a great team in New York for the twin summits. We’ll keep you updated on what happens in the next few weeks.

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