The U.S. Department of State defines a refugee as someone who has fled from his or her home country and cannot return because he or she has a well-founded fear of persecution based on religion, race, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. According to the U.S. Committee for Refugees & Immigrants 2009 World Refugee survey, there are approximately 15.3 million refugees worldwide.
The first step for most refugees is to register with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the country to which s/he has fled. UNHCR has the mandate to provide international protection to refugees. UNHCR determines if an individual qualifies as a refugee and, if so, works toward the best possible durable solution for each refugee: safe return to the home country, local integration, or third-country resettlement.
RefugeeOne serves refugees who are brought to the United States through the U.S. State Department and sent to Chicago for resettlement.
Founded in 1982 and incorporated as an independent not-for-profit in 1992, RefugeeOne is a refugee resettlement agency that provides a full range of services to refugees resettled in the Chicago area. Their primary focus is to assist the refugee in becoming an independent, self-supporting member of the new community as soon as possible.
Every year, RefugeeOne assists approximately 2,500 refugees and immigrants of all ages, ethnic groups, faiths and backgrounds to find housing, learn the English language, acclimate to American culture, develop computer and job readiness skills, secure employment, obtain medical and other care, apply for citizenship, and develop overall family strengthening skills.
RefugeeOne’s programs are made possible through the dedicated efforts of nearly 45 staff members – many of whom were refugees themselves – and approximately 400 volunteers. While many of their programs and services are delivered at their main offices in Uptown in Chicago, they have off-site locations throughout the north side of Chicago and in various suburbs where their programs for youth, women, and seniors are held.
Refugees come to them from all parts of the world depending on the current political climate. During their more than 30 year history, RefugeeOne has resettled tens-of-thousands of refugees from every major crisis in history including people fleeing Cambodia’s killing fields, the former Yugoslavia, genocide in Rwanda and other African countries; Jews fleeing Communist oppression and Iranians fleeing the Islamic Revolution. In 2005 RefugeeOne even played a role in providing assistance for Americans displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
The majority of refugees currently being resettled in the U.S. and by RefugeeOne are:
-Iraqis who helped the recent U.S. military operations and Assyrian Christian Iraqis fleeing religious persecution
-Burmese who have fled government-instilled violence and persecution
-Bhutanese who have fled ethnic “cleansing”