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From refugee to IRC Immigration Assistant: Dario’s story

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Dario Bilakovic recently joined the IRC in Atlanta team as an Immigration Assistant, but this isn’t his first encounter with the agency – he and his family were resettled by the IRC in Atlanta in 1998. After living through the Yugoslav Wars in their home country of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dario and his family were finally able to resettle in the United States with the help of the UNHCR in the Balkans, and the IRC here in America.

Dario Bilakovic, the newest member of the IRC in Atlanta's Immigration Team.
Dario Bilakovic, the newest member of the IRC in Atlanta's Immigration Team. Photo: IRC Atlanta

The wars of the 90s in former Yugoslavia left Bosnia economically, physically and politically destroyed. But it was the ethnic divide of post-war Bosnia that forced Dario’s parents to seek refuge in America, as they are an ethnically mixed marriage. With support from the IRC, Dario and his family were able to establish themselves in the Atlanta area, where they still reside today.

After graduating high school in Gwinnett County, Dario went on to earn a BIS in International Studies from Georgia State University, before serving over two years in the Peace Corps in Senegal – an experience he describes as “eye opening” and “one of the most rewarding experiences.”

His relationship with the IRC has now come full circle, as he helps refugees and immigrants in Atlanta to apply for immigration benefits in order to fully integrate and establish themselves as new Americans. Below, Dario shares his story.

On what motivated him to work for the IRC in Atlanta:

“When I began to seek a job with the IRC, I quickly realized that my experiences as a refugee have shaped many of my decisions and goals in life. I am so lucky that my family was resettled in the Atlanta area because of its hospitality, but more importantly because of its diversity. Even though I come from a multicultural country, Atlanta is where I was truly able to see multiculturalism from a global perspective. This environment and my personal experiences of moving to the United States at a young age are what lead me to study and seek employment in the international humanitarian field. It was also why I wanted to join the Peace Corps and experience yet another culture that was nothing like the ones that I had grown up with. None of this would have been possible without the IRC. Working in refugee services had been on my mind for many years, and IRC was on top of the list of agencies that I wanted to work for. I am attracted to the IRC because they are so respected in the field, but especially because of their history and commitment to their clients.” 

On his experience being resettled in the U.S.:

“As you can imagine, coming to a country in which you don’t speak the language can be daunting. Being 10 years old, it was a lot easier for me to navigate America than it was for my parents. We landed at the Atlanta airport late at night, but before we went to our new home, we were taken to Jubilee Partners in rural Georgia. Jubilee Partners is a place that I can’t speak highly enough of, because living there for three months was a nice way to ease into life in America. They are the reason I never had to take English classes once we were resettled in Decatur. For my parents of course, none of it was easy. They were adults and didn’t speak the language. Having other Yugoslavian refugees was helpful, but it was the IRC who took us to our first apartment, showed us how to use transportation, helped my sister and I register for school, and did all of the other things that the Resettlement Department is known for. Looking back I see how crucial agencies like the IRC are to the success of newly-arrived refugees.”

On how his personal experience with the IRC helps with his work:

“Of course I see myself and my family in a lot of the clients we serve every day. When kids come in to the office to translate for their families, I’m always reminded of the many appointments I was dragged to and the many phone calls to customer service I was “forced” to make so that I could help my parents communicate in this new world. But on a serious note, I know how important it is to look at things from the clients’ perspective. In my work I always strive to be culturally appropriate, patient and kind.”

To learn more about the work of the IRC in Atlanta and for information on how you can get involved with the IRC as a donor or volunteer, please contact Development Manager, Kalie Lasiter, at Kalie.Lasiter [at] Rescue.org or 678-636-8941.

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