In 1933, one of the greatest minds of history made a suggestion. Albert Einstein proposed the founding of the American branch of the European-based International Relief Association (IRA) to aid Germans suffering under Hitler’s rule. Then, in 1940 the Emergency Rescue Committee (ERC) was formed to aid refugees trapped in Vichy France.
It was in 1942 that the ERC and IRA joined forces, and became International Relief and Rescue Committee, which was later shortened to The International Rescue Committee (IRC).
From that point on the IRC has been aiding and responding to the world’s most devastating crisis. They have been the helping hand during some of worst struggles humanity has faced from conflict and disaster throughout history.
They helped Eastern European refugees during the cold war in 1945, provided food and supplies to the people of West Berlin in 1950, gave Cuban refugees asylum and resettlement fleeing from Castro dictatorship in 1960 and helped over 20,000 Bosnian refugees after Serbia’s ethnic cleansing in 1992.
And in 2017, they are helping with the distressing refugee crisis in Syria, the heartbreaking hunger crisis in Africa and in all, continuing to aid the endless fight for humanity across the globe.
Fiona Freeman, who is the Communications Coordinator at the Atlanta office, gave The Signal a look at the inner workings of the organization and the services it does and the humanitarian differences it strives for.
What lies within: Q&A
What does the International Committee (IRC) in Atlanta (along with the wider global International Rescue Committee) do in regards to immigration, refugees and humanitarian work?
Freeman: The International Rescue Committee (IRC) responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic well-being and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster from around the world. The IRC in Atlanta, a locally funded office, creates opportunities for refugees and immigrants to integrate and thrive in Georgia. We resettle over 1,000 refugees each year and serve an additional 2,500 refugees, immigrants and asylees with a diverse offering of programs that ensure families are empowered to rebuild their lives in communities throughout the state. We offer safe housing, basic necessities including health care and behavioral health services, multi-level English proficiency classes, occupational preparation and training, employment services, financial literacy, afterschool and summer enrichment programming for high school-aged youth and immigration and legal services.
What is the IRC in Atlanta’s thoughts on the controversy of refugees coming to this country?
Freeman: Refugee resettlement is a long and proud tradition in this country, aligned with our national values of freedom and opportunity. The United States has historically been a beacon of freedom and hope for the world’s most oppressed and persecuted, and our communities have proudly welcomed these families as part of the fabric that make this nation great.
Freeman: Refugees are people who have lives you would recognize. Much like us, they were once able to live peacefully; they had jobs, took their kids to school, celebrated family milestones and held their families close and dear. All of this has been torn apart by violence, war and conflict and they want nothing more than to find a way to live a peaceful and stable life.
Freeman: We must strive to remember that at the heart of this crisis are human beings in danger who seek only a safe haven and a compassionate and helping hand. I know from personal experience how much refugees value the safety and freedom that America offers, and the opportunity to start a new life here.
Freeman: Refugees undergo the most extensive background check of any entrant to the U.S., they are required to pass numerous in-person interviews by trained experts and multiple security screenings by national security, defense and intelligence agencies based on biographic and biometric evidence. The vetting system has been methodically structured to both safeguard the security of the U.S. and provide protection to those who need it most, and to whom we have a moral obligation to protect.
What are some inspirational stories that the IRC in Atlanta has seen with refugees?
Freeman: Our refugee friends and neighbors are all inspirational, it’s an absolute honor and a privilege to work with and support individuals from all over the world who have experienced unimaginable violence and persecution, yet who still arrive here in America full of strength, hope, determination and resilience. I have colleagues who were once resettled by the IRC in Atlanta as refugees, who are now giving back to their community and working hard to help others who share in their refugee past. We have refugee clients who are doctors, lawyers, designers, filmmakers – so many talented and educated individuals who come here fleeing persecution, hoping to rebuild their lives here in safety. We have resettled young refugees who went on to become valedictorian of their Atlanta high schools, received prestigious scholarships such as the Gates Millennium Scholarship, and who now attend universities across the U.S., including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and schools right here in Georgia, like Emory and Agnes Scott.
The organization has an event in March, can you describe what the cause is for?
Freeman: The IRC in Atlanta are part of a group called the Coalition of Refugee Service Agencies or CRSA. CRSA is made up of 14 refugee serving organizations working in and around the Atlanta area to help make refugees welcome. CRSA’s mission is to engage a broad coalition to highlight the cultural, social and economic contributions of refugees and immigrants in Georgia. We want to spread the good news to others about what those of us privileged to work with refugees and other victims of forced migration already know: that refugees and immigrants are beneficial to our communities in many tangible and intangible ways and that the hospitality the south has long been known for is still very much alive and well!
Freeman: Each year, CRSA holds an event at the Georgia State Capitol called the New Americans Celebration (NAC), this year it’s Tuesday March 7. NAC is an annual day of education and outreach for refugees and immigrants, and for all Georgians who support them. Each year, we welcome more than 200 volunteers to the Georgia State Capitol to engage legislators and show our support for new Georgians.
How to Help: The IRC provides multiple opportunities for anyone to help the cause, and the ways range from donations to hands-on assistance.
- Donating: There are refugees that need consistent support here in the U.S and in around the world, so one can give a monthly donation or a one-time donation. Go to https://help.rescue.org/donate/
- Campaigning: One can start their own fundraiser, and then add some photos and personal/shared stories through video. They advise to add a small amount or as much as you can to the fundraiser to get the ball rolling, and then the next step is to tell some friends and family so they can get the word out. Go to https://www.crowdrise.com/internationalrescuecommittee
- Rescue Gift: If one wants to be aware of where exactly the money is going, one can give a rescue gift for multiple purposes: http://gifts.rescue.org/
- A Year of School: Girls are denied schooling all around the world due to a current crisis in the country, a family’s tough financial situation or limited resources within the country- $58
- Temporary Shelter: When families are forced out of their homes to flee war or unsafe living conditions, they end up in camps where the search for food, shelter and water is imminent. The IRC gives them materials to build temporary shelters out of rope and sturdy plastic sheeting. To help fund for more materials- $54
- Warm Blankets: When refugees are sleeping in the cold at night and living in harsh weather conditions, a warm blanket can provide wonders- $84 for 15 warm blankets.
- Clean Water: The IRC provides supplies and sanitary aid to refugees living in crowded situations, where disease is more likely. To help reduce dehydration and disease, donate to supply clean water for a year to three people- $110
- Emergency Food: Food crises happen throughout the globe, and many malnourished children are the unfortunate result. The IRC provides nutritious and protein-rich foods to get those children back to good health. To give a month’s supply of emergency food packets for at least 50 children- $68
- Safe Passage: When refugees have to unexpectedly flee their home and end up in a strange land, it can be frightening. The IRC provides those refugees with important information on medical care and other services, as well as giving transportation to hospitals or asylum centers. To continue this service for families away from home- $36
4) Volunteering: Anyone can have the chance to volunteer and help within Atlanta, one can mentor refugee families and individuals, assist refugees in learning essential interview and job-seeking skills and help maintain a New Roots garden. Go to https://www.rescue.org/volunteer to see the volunteer process.
Their work at a glance: Within the past year, the IRC has made exponential efforts to help those struggling around the world. Here are just a few ways they did so:
- In 2016, the U.S. resettled some 85,000 refugees.
- The IRC in Atlanta is one of 5 refugee resettlement agencies working in Georgia.
- The IRC in Atlanta resettled 1,081 refugees in 2016, from 23 different countries. Our top five countries of origin in 2016, in order, were Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar, Syria and Afghanistan.
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