Sunday, October 19, 2008

Making the global local

Last night I emceed the Freedom Dinner for the International Rescue Committee. For 75 years, the IRC has saved lives by reaching out to some of the most vulnerable people in the world--people who have been uprooted or displaced by war, violence, persecution, and natural disasters. The IRC rushes to the aid of these refugees, speaks for them when they cannot speak for themselves, works to restore their freedom and sense of hope, enables them to rebuild their lives and lead productive, self-sufficient lives. And within the context of these challenges, they are also fighting to promote human rights around the globe.

At my table were two Iraqi refugees, Seifeldin Al Alousi and Adil Mohammed, who spoke to the 200+ in attendance, sharing their heart-rending stories. During dinner, Seifeldin explained to me that prior to coming to the U.S., he had been teaching at an Iraqi institution of higher education in Beirut. I asked him why Iraqis would travel to Beirut to take classes and he explained the Baghdad University is a shell of what is used to be. Most academics have fled the country and there's no one left behind to teach.

When the CEO of the International Rescue Committee, George Rupp, came to town a few days ago, he explained at at reception that the Iraq War has created a massive refugee problem, displacing roughly 4 million Iraqis. At the same time, for the first three years of the US occupation, we refused to accept and resettle any Iraqi refugees. After shirking it's responsibilities for so long, the US will likely settle 12,000 this year. Sweden, on the other hand, a country of 9.2 million people (compared to more than 300 million in the US), has already taken in more than 40,000 refugees.

As one of the top resettlement destinations in the country, Boise has a grave responsibility in helping the uprooted and displaced to rebuild their lives in a new home. It stands to reason that this wonderful community we live in be that new home for hundreds of refugees that arrive here each year. And we are all enriched by having them here.

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