This World Refugee Day we are asked to pause, reflect, and reimagine ‘community. This year we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Refugee Act of 1980, which codified the US resettlement and asylum programs — necessary and life-saving work. Yet as we honor a 40-year legacy we are faced too with an administration that has been systematically targeting refugees, asylum seekers, and all immigrants, using strategies both nefarious and legally suspect, in an effort to deconstruct and eliminate refugee resettlement and access to asylum. Even before the rise of COVID-19 resulted in the administration virtually closing US borders, the government was far off track from welcoming the historically-low cap of 18,000 refugees.
But these reflections are no different than those we have been forced to have since this administration took office. Our work does not exist in a vacuum, and the experiences and identities of refugees and asylees cannot be reduced to the system which facilitated their welcome. This World Refugee Day, we must consider how COVID-19, demonstrations for Black lives, and the demands of rights of our LGBTQ+ community members affect our communities and work.
“COVID-19 has exposed major weaknesses in our country’s social support programs, with many refugees and asylees blocked from accessing much of the expanded emergency relief. Yet despite difficulties in accessing support, refugees and asylees have continued to show up as essential workers, mobilizing food pantries and other community support networks,” said Sarah Seniuk, advocacy and communications manager for RCUSA.
June has brought with it powerful and ongoing protests against systemic anti-Blackness and police brutality, spurred by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and too many others; demanding a reckoning from and for our communities; demanding that we unearth the hidden places where racism and inequity have continued to take root, that we expose them, and heal. “We know that addressing anti-Blackness and racism must happen within all aspects of our work — from how we welcome new refugees into community, to the policies we advocate for; from the local level, to the national, to the global,” said Ayehsa Hassan, RCUSA’s Texas grassroots organizer.
“Our responding to these crises is more than an issue of solidarity — access to public health, Black liberation, the freedom to live free from gender-based discrimination, impact all of us. We serve refugees, asylum seekers, and asylees who have struggled to access reliable public services, who are Black, who are LGBTQ+, who are Black LGBTQ+. Their cause is our cause, because our work is about community, and these issues threaten the safety and wellbeing of our communities,” said Danielle Grigsby, interim executive director RCUSA.
As Refugee Council USA staff reflect this World Refugee Day, we know that we can only succeed in creating welcoming communities for refugees by acknowledging that this mission is inextricably linked to the work of upending the endemic structures that contribute to anti-Blackness and racism. Therefore we dedicate ourselves to deepening the connections between these missions and to creating a space where the complex lived experiences of our community members can be spoken out loud; where we can learn from them, be informed by them and let this knowledge guide us as we move to challenge the status quo and expand protections so that we may all live in safety and love.