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A year of unwelcome

The White House yanked back the welcome mat: how refugees are still thriving in America.

Digital Content Director, International Rescue Committee

The United States has a long history of welcoming refugees fleeing war and persecution. However, since President Donald Trump took office, this proud, bipartisan tradition has been under attack.

In January 2017, Trump instituted a travel ban that is still in place despite ongoing legal challenges. He has slashed refugee admissions to the lowest levels in modern history, and his administration has indefinitely suspended programs that help refugees reunite with their families. But despite all of these efforts to slam the doors on refugees, ordinary citizens across the country continue to stand with them. 

In what could have been a "year of unwelcome," refugees in America ...

... were greeted with hugs at the airport

An American friend, Kristin (left) was among the wellwishers awaiting the Sadiq family’s arrival at Dulles Airport in Virginia in July.

Photo: Sarah Stacke/IRC

The Sadiq family from Pakistan was one of the last to safely enter the country before the Trump travel ban went into effect on July 13. The ban has stranded thousands of vulnerable refugees who were not already on flights to the U.S., leaving them in danger.

... started kindergarten

 5-year-old Jori walks to school holding her father's hand

Although her family arrived in the U.S. barely two years ago as refugees from Syria, 5-year-old Jori and her big brother, Majed, 8, are learning English and thriving in their new home in Dallas.

Photo: Andrew Oberstadt/IRC

Five-year-old Jori's family resettled in Dallas after fleeing the war in Syria. When she's not in school, Jori loves to draw and practice the alphabet. “Jori is so excited to go to school," says her mother, Bothina Matar. "She loves to learn.”

... made a new best friend

Jeff Balubwila with his friend, Caden Nash in Boise.

Jeff Balubwila, 11 (left), with his friend, Caden Nash, 9. The two enjoy playing basketball.

Photo: Jonathan McBride/IRC

When 11-year-old Jeff Balubwila arrived in Boise last summer, he was relieved to leave behind the dangerous streets of Nairobi, Kenya, where he watched children his age gunned down. A new American friend is helping him feel at home.

… shared their favorite recipes 

Rawas from Syria made a video with Tastemade to demonstrate how to make her favorite recipe, kibbe, with bulghur wheat, spiced meat and toasted pine nuts. "This dish represents my country, my culture and my family," she says.

…  joined the workforce

Joe Dugbo arrived in New York from Liberia in March and found employment at WeWork. The best thing about the job, Joe says, is that you learn and meet new people every day. Find out why refugees make great employees.

… contributed to the U.S. economy

Farhad from Afghanistan has a job, goes to college and is on his way to becoming a dental assistant in his new home, San Diego. The 24-year-old is also making monthly car loan payments on time.

… celebrated the birth of their American daughter

The Bazara family from Syria were reunited at a Seattle airport on Feb. 9 after three family members were banned from entering due to the travel ban. Read about the reunion that almost didn't happen.

… created jobs for Americans

Salam Bunyan with his wife at their Boise retaurant

Uprooted from Iraq and Syria, Salam Bunyan, his wife Aseel and their children were resettled by the IRC in Boise, Idaho, where he has opened a Middle Eastern restaurant.

Photo: Jonathan McBride/IRC

Salam Bunyan, a refugee from Iraq, opened a Middle Eastern restaurant in Boise where he has American customers—and employees. "I’m not taking a job, I’m giving a job," he says. "I give another chance to people.”

...  worked to change perceptions of refugees 

Born in Zambia to parents who fled violence in Congo, Patrick and George became the first of their family to attend college. They are working to counter negative rhetoric about refugees in the U.S. and inspire other refugees to pursue their dreams.

... spoke up courageously in Washington

Bothina Matar was invited to go to Capitol Hill by Congressman Marc Veasey of Texas. On behalf of Syrian refugees, Bothina spoke to lawmakers and the press, and even attended President Trump's address to Congress. She said, "I just hope that by being here I will show the truth about refugees."

... were elected to public office

Candidate Kathy Tran with supporters in Virginia

Kathy Tran and her family were resettled from Vietnam with help from the IRC. Kathy's experience as a refugee inspired her to run for office and build a more welcoming culture for immigrants in America.

Photo: Photo: Courtesy Kathy Tran for Delegate

On Nov. 7, Kathy Tran, a refugee from Vietnam, became one of the first Asian-American women elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. “Welcoming refugees and people who are fleeing violence and terror is central to America," Kathy says. "What we need to do is open our arms and our hearts to people who want to work hard and to create bright futures for themselves and their families.”

A refugee from Liberia,  Wilmot Collins, was voted in as mayor of Helena, Mont on Election Night. He will become the first black mayor of the capital city, unseating a 16-year-incumbent. “When you come to America as a refugee, all eyes are on you,” Wilmot says. “All we’re asking for is that second chance, and then we’ll prove ourselves.”

Stand with refugees

The International Rescue Committee is inpired by the courage and resilience of refugees and grateful to everyone who has opened their arms to them this year. See how we help.

Where the government won’t stand up, we can—and we will. Find out how you can make refugees welcome