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Boise is definitely "Still Here" for refugees

"Still Here:" an evening of storytelling, activism, and community. Photo: IRC

Almost 100 people filed into Neckar Coffee on September 19th for an evening of storytelling, activism, and community. Hosted by the International Rescue Committee in Boise, the "Still Here" event had attendees packed into every available seat, lining the walls, and nestled into available spaces on the floor.

The IRC in Boise was joined by two storytellers in partnership with the Refugee Speakers Bureau. Tecle Gebremicheal, the event's first storyteller, is a former refugee from Ethiopia, current BSU student, Army reservist, and candidate for a seat on Boise's City Council. The second storyteller, Shadi Ismail, originally fled Syria due to his sexual orientation before being resettled in Boise. He recently started his own small-business hand-sewing pillows and bedding in a traditional Syrian method used by his father and grandfather.

100 attendees packed every inch of space at Neckar Coffee to hear refugee storytellers and learn how they could take action.

Photo: Megan Schwab/IRC

Both storytellers focused on why the people of Boise and its unique culture provided them with a warm welcome when they first resettled. Tecle mentioned seeing Boise for the first time from the airplane, the valley of trees lined with rivers and ringed by hills. It reminded him of his village back home, so it seemed like the right place to start anew: "and it has been the right place," he affirmed.

Shadi spoke of how his experience being a refugee had made him untrustworthy of others, until the day a stranger took his hand to help him when he was lost. "This was my first real, real experience [of] Boise[ans], or of people in general in America." His experience since has been defined by that initial moment of kindness. "Boise is not the place, it's the people," that make it so special, said Shadi later. 

Thousands of individuals and families just like Tecle and Shadi are still waiting for the opportunity to become a part of Idaho's community, part of many communities across the country made better by the refugees resettled there. In the last three years, refugee arrivals to the US have dropped by 74% (by 51% to the state of Idaho alone). This drop in arrivals is a direct result of the current Administration's policies targeting refugee arrivals by executive order and via quieter bureaucratic barriers. But there is hope, a way that Idahoans can support refugees like Tecle and Shadi and ensure they will continue to arrive in Boise for years to come. 

That hope is the GRACE Act.

The Guaranteed Refugee Admissions Ceiling Enhancement (GRACE) Act would ensure that a minimum of 95,000 refugees are resettled to the US annually. This would protect the infrastructure of this strategically important humanitarian program, no matter who is president. Why 95,000? Because this number is the historic average arrival cap set by US presidents since the contemporary resettlement program was established in 1980. 

How can you voice your support for the GRACE Act?

  1. Sign this petition and become one of 95,000 signatories urging congress to support a floor of 95,000 in future 
  2. Write and call your representatives to ensure they know that you are still here for refugee communities in Idaho
  3. Share this message on social media! Follow the IRC in Boise on facebook and tell your circles why you support refugees and the GRACE Act 

An event attendee takes action, writing Idaho Senator Jim Risch, as the evening concludes.

Photo: PC: IRC/Megan Schwab

 

The IRC in Boise would like to thank the following individuals who made "Still Here" possible: 

  •  Grant Shealy and Zoe Davis of Neckar Coffee for opening their space to the IRC in Boise 
  •  Agency for New Americans and Refugee Speakers Bureau for partnering on the event 
  •  Rita Thara of Thara Fashions and Shadi Ismail for showcasing products from their businesses 
  •  Tecle Gebremicheal and Shadi Ismail for telling their stories