Each year, between 800 and 1,000 refugees - survivors of violent conflict, persecution and oppression unimaginable to most Americans - make their homes in greater Tucson. For many, stepping off the airplane onto Arizona soil marks the beginning of a new life defined by new opportunities and challenges.
World Refugee Day, which is observed today, is a day to honor the strength and resilience of refugees living in Tucson, and to celebrate the generous spirit of Tucsonans who continue, every day, to open their arms in welcome to some of the world's most vulnerable people.
Offering sanctuary to refugees is a longstanding tradition in the United States. Of the more than 14 million refugees around the world, fewer than 100,000 per year get the chance to resettle in a third country, and of that number, the U.S. welcomes almost two thirds.
Refugees are people who have been forced to flee their country because of war, political oppression and conflict. They cannot go home.
When they come to the U.S., they are expected to quickly become self-sufficient. Organizations like the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Tucson are committed to helping newly resettled refugees obtain the tools they need to live full and independent lives.
Refugees are resilient. That they are able to make the long journey here speaks volumes about their tenacity.
Many of them have suffered great harm, including torture, rape and the death of loved ones. Yet the most striking thing about the refugees the IRC works with is their determination to succeed and their willingness to adapt to life in Tucson. Come to a job-training class at the IRC's office in Tucson and you will be inspired by the students there. You will see Iraqis, Bhutanese and Eritreans all learning critical skills together and striving to become fully functioning participants in American life.
And they succeed. Take Charlotte, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo. A dressmaker in her home country, she wasted no time in applying for a loan through the IRC's microenterprise program to start her own business.
Or consider Josephine, a refugee from the Central African Republic. Forced to flee war, she and her children found sanctuary in Tucson, where she now works and her children attend school.
Indeed, refugees are an integral part of our community, contributing to the rich and culturally diverse tapestry of our society. Many open businesses, create jobs and contribute to our economy. Time and again we hear from employers that our refugee clients demonstrate a strong work ethic and take great pride in their work.
Refugees enrich our human experience. Their struggles and their triumphs remind us of what it means to be a U.S. citizen and to take pride in our commitment as a nation to offer refuge to the world's most vulnerable people.
In honor of World Refugee Day, the IRC in Tucson, along with our partners, will celebrate our refugee neighbors at the Tucson World RefugeeFEST on Saturday at the Maracana Indoor Sports Arena, 555 E. 18th St.
We invite you to attend and celebrate the richness of our shared community.
Aaron Grigg is the interim executive director of the International Rescue Committee in Tucson, which empowers survivors of violent conflict, persecution and oppression to rebuild their lives and regain self-reliance. For more information, visit rescue.org/tucson