World Refugee Day salutes people finding their way in a new country

Refugees and their families have woven themselves into the fabric of America. They are our neighbors, friends and colleagues.

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With signs in the background that say "We love Ukraine" and "Stand with Ukraine," students watch an orchestra play.

Students watch members of the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s orchestra play at St. Nicholas Cathedral School in Ukrainian Village in October 2022. Many refugees who fled Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and came to Chicago enrolled at the school.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

What does it mean to be a refugee? According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, a refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.

Here are a few other facts about refugees that might surprise you:

  • The process of refugee resettlement to the U.S. is lengthy and thorough. It takes approximately two years and involves numerous U.S. governmental agencies.
  • Refugees are vetted more intensively than any other group seeking to enter the U.S. and are legally admitted to the U.S.
  • Since 1975, the U.S. has welcomed more than 3 million refugees from all over the world, and they have built new lives for their families in all 50 states.
  • Economically speaking, refugees boast high rates of entrepreneurship, contribute significant tax revenue, raise productivity and stimulate the economy.

However, the most profound understanding of the refugee experience comes from listening to the voices of refugees themselves. Here’s one, a young woman named Mu from Burma: “A refugee is a fighter, and a survivor, that is trying to gain back their human rights and find safety, not for their own generation, but future generations.”

On World Refugee Day, June 20, we pause to recognize the resilience and potential of refugees who have been forcibly displaced from their homelands, often enduring significant trauma. Refugees are grateful newcomers in an unfamiliar land, eager to build self-sufficient lives but lacking the day-to-day experience and language to navigate a foreign country.

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In Chicago, we can create a welcoming and supportive community for our new neighbors. We can contribute in three key ways:

  • Educate: Volunteer to teach English or provide homework assistance.
  • Donate: Financial contributions or pro bono services ranging from legal to medical and dental to employment and housing assistance.
  • Advocate: Raise awareness, collaborate with nonprofit organizations that support refugees.

Refugees and their families have woven themselves into the fabric of America. They are our neighbors, friends and colleagues. Our commitment to these future citizens is not just an act of charity; it is an investment in our collective future.

Peggy Forbes, executive director, Madonna Mission

Ed Burke deserves 6 months

To Neil Steinberg on his column Monday on the sentencing of Ed Burke: I’m trying to decide what I enjoyed more, the analogies he used to describe Burke’s “crimes,” or being able to read a whole Steinberg column and understand every word, except for one — animus. However, the context in which this word was used made it self-explanatory.

I agree, because of Burke’s age (80), six months and out in three months. Will this be enough to keep politicians’ hands out of the cookie jar? Greed has put down many fine people.

Bob Meder, Romeoville

1 question for Mayor Johnson

If I could ask Mayor Johnson one question, I would ask him to explain why his plans to end the city’s gun violence problem are failing.

Steven Herr, West Ridge

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