by Andrew Timbie and Danica Kushner
When the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia, Madeline Albright and her family were forced to flee. In 1948, they came to America with no option to return to their home country. Many years later she was sworn in as the 64th secretary of state under Bill Clinton. The first female secretary of state in the United States was a refugee.
The rise of the Nazi party and anti-Semitism against German Jews eventually created a hostile view towards Albert Einstein; his books were burned and his return to his homeland became impossible. He was eventually forced to immigrate to the United States where he became a dual citizen. The man behind the Theory of Relativity was a refugee.
The contribution of refugees for the benefit of our world cannot be understated but it often goes unrecognized. For more than three decades, refugees have been formally resettled through the US government and nonprofit agencies. More than 10,000 refugees have been resettled in the Triad through the assistance of nonprofits like Church World Service, African Services Coalition and World Relief. Throughout this time, the communities have seen first, second and now third generations of refugees assimilate into our community and way of life, becoming part of the tremendous fabric of culture being built in Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point. They are rich and poor, educated and illiterate, young and old and all are seeking a way to rebuild their lives in a community that allows them to thrive.
It is clear that the refugee crisis is amplifying as the daily news highlights the atrocities of countries such as Syria and Eritrea. Eyes have been opened and heads have turned as pictures circulate, detailing the horrific reality of those crossing the treacherous Mediterranean Sea to seek safety and stability. As the crises continue we are confronted with the reality that the refugee situation does not only affect those who are fleeing, but also those who are hosting. The United States is the leading country in refugee resettlement and has agreed to accept 80,000 people within this fiscal year.
The Triad alone will welcome roughly 1,000 refugees from countries such as Syria, Eritrea, Iraq, Sudan, Burma, Somalia and Congo. Over the years, this area has evolved into a multicultural melting pot of refugees from all around the world, and continues to grow. As our refugee population grows and we welcome the newcomer, it is essential that we facilitate an environment that fosters assimilation.
Refugees arrive to the United States with legal permanent resident status and the documents needed to work. When they arrive, resettlement agencies and volunteers assist them in receiving all that they need to start on the road toward self-sufficiency. This process is expected to holistically equip newcomers to engage in life vocationally, culturally and relationally. As they integrate, most prepare to become United States citizens, which takes place five years after arrival. Considering the permanence of the resettlement process, and critical value of this population, we must be diligent to help refugees assimilate into our city. It is mutually beneficial to engage them in the work force, share in culture, and cultivate relationships. As Madeline Albright said to a group of new American citizens: “[This] is an ongoing chapter in the story of America which is, above all else, the story of immigrants.”
As refugees assimilate, companies profit from a reliable and determined work force that consistently meets production and exceeds expectation. Likewise, refugees learn workplace behavior, receive an income, and build vocational rapport for future advancement. For many, these jobs are the first opportunity to work legally with proper documentation and status, therefore representing far more than their modest earned income. Men and women have expressed the depth of pride, purpose and place as they go to work each day and contribute to the growth of our country’s economy. Cities take on new and meaningful dimensions as cultures are shared and diversity is welcomed.
Refugees in turn are given an opportunity to express their valuable heritage while gaining customs and cultures. Relationships can be a conduit for collaboration while propelling communities toward holistic, healthy change. It should be our expectation that the refugee population presses into each facet of life in the United States while we make great effort to maximize this opportunity and support them in this process. Through intentional action, we can make refugee arrival and assimilation safe, seamless, and successful.
So reach out to your new neighbors and invite them to be a part of your lives. You never know who will be the next great contributor to your life, our community, or the world.
Andrew Timbie and Danica Kushner work with World Relief High Point, a faith-based nonprofit resettling refugees in the Triad since 1989.