Afghan President Hamid Karzai Receives IRC Freedom Award; Senators Brownback and Kennedy Press for Higher Refugee Admissions
|Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, is presented with the IRC Freedom Award by IRC Chairman Emeritus John Whitehead. (Photo: Elsa Ruiz for IRC).|
The IRC has bestowed its prestigious Freedom Award on President Hamid Karzai in recognition of his leadership and courage in helping Afghanistan and its people move toward peace and freedom.
The award was presented Wednesday at the IRC’s annual benefit dinner at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan before a gathering of some 800 political and business leaders, journalists and supporters of the IRC’s work.
Receiving the award, Karzai said, “It not only lifts my spirit further to continue to struggle for freedom, but this award actually acknowledges the love for freedom of the Afghan people, whom the IRC has served for many years.” He said this love of freedom has kept the country and the Afghan people together through 23 years of struggle, natural disasters, misery and repression.
Speaking about the IRC’s humanitarian assistance, the president said, “There is no better cause than service for people without homes. There is no better effort than to try to settle the refugees back into their homes.”
He praised the IRC’s education, health care, vocational training and reconstruction programs in Afghanistan. And he recalled the IRC’s extensive education programs for Afghan refugee children at schools in Pakistan, where he said he once worked for the IRC as an English teacher.
“We want to recognize Mr. Karzai’s determination to help Afghans return home after so many years in exile,” said George Rupp, president of the IRC. “He is a strong and courageous advocate for the freedom and independence of his country and people.”
Click here for the full text of President Karzai's acceptance speech.
|Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan. (Photo: Elsa Ruiz for IRC).|
“Refugees await our help,” says Queen Rania of Jordan
The event also brought together other leading figures involved in assistance for refugees and war-affected populations.
Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan said every day there are families around the world who face the “evils of war,” who suddenly become deprived of the most simple necessities and eventually return home to “find their towns destroyed, their jobs gone and basic services in turmoil.
“Let us imagine what it must mean to be a refugee,” the queen asked of the gathering. “Imagine the ordeals of eighty percent of the world’s refugees and displaced persons who are women and children—and who, without organizations like the IRC, would have no hope. …We here, have a job to do. Refugees across the world, silent and courageous heroes, await hour help.”
Click here for the full text of Queen Rania's address.
|Senators Brownback (left) and Kennedy (right) in a discussion moderated by Tom Brokaw at IRC's freedom award dinner. (Photo: Elsa Ruiz for IRC).|
Senators Kennedy and Brownback Call for Higher Refugee Admissions
In a discussion, moderated by NBC anchor Tom Brokaw, U.S. Senators Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Sam Brownback of Kansas also called for continued assistance for refugees, but focused their attention on those seeking refuge in the United States.
Both senators discussed the urgency in reversing the sharp decline in refugee admissions due to the slow implementation of new security measures put in place after the attacks of September 11.
“This is a country that historically has welcomed refugees, those who are being persecuted,” said Kennedy. “It is a fundamental value for our nation. It is a defining aspect of our country, and if we retreat on that, not only are we retreating on something which is fundamental about our nation, but we are setting the wrong example for the rest of the world.”
Brownback said more must be done to educate U.S. leaders and citizens about the contributions refugees have always made—that they don’t take from communities, but give so much. He said he will continue to press this message to his fellow republicans and the Administration. “What we do for the foreigner amongst us really measures us as a great people,” he said. “We’ve got to do more.”
|Rosa Weet, Sudanese refugee now living in Arizona. (Photo: Elsa Ruiz for IRC).|
A New Life of Hope
The story of Rosa Weet, a Sudanese refugee, is a striking example of Brownback’s statement about the contributions of refugees.
Weet, who addressed the Freedom Award dinner, spoke about the agonizing and frightening experience of having to suddenly flee a comfortable home life when her husband, a local government official, learned that he was to be arrested for opposition activities.
Within hours, the decision was made that she and her husband had to separate for the safety of their five children. Pregnant with her sixth, she fled to Cairo, where she lived in a sprawling slum for African refugees for seven years.
In late 1995, Weet learned that she was accepted for resettlement and would be sponsored by the IRC in Phoenix, Arizona and several months later the Weets were on their way.
“This is when my new life of hope began,” said Weet. “But it was also the beginning of another very challenging time. Sometimes I asked myself—am I going to make it, being a single mother, finding work, helping my children adjust.”
But Weet said she was determined to get through it. And she did. She put her children in school, took two jobs and went back to school herself. With the help of the IRC, she and several other refugee women founded Refugee Women United for Progress, a group which she now chairs.
“There are Afghan women and Somalis and Bosnians in our group,” said Weet. “We give ESL classes and offer management training. We invite speakers to discuss education, health issues, domestic violence. We are helping each other and empowering each other.”
Weet said such a support group for refugees was crucial after September 11. “What happened in New York had happened to us before and we felt the pain all over again.”
But she said the new U.S. measures to keep out terrorists are hurting the wrong people— the victims of terror—people like her elderly mother, whose application for resettlement was denied in June, and her husband, who she located two years ago and whose application for resettlement is still pending.
Today, Weet stands as an example of the resilience, courage and generosity of refugees who come to the United States. She is now a homeowner, a United States citizen, a mother of three children in college and three more on the way. “I am an American,” she declared at the close of her remarks.
Click here for the full text of Mrs. Rosa Weet's speech.