Clifton’s greatest strength is our ability to come together to support those in need, and some of our residents are doing inspiring work to support refugees both here at home and abroad.
The figures are overwhelming: More than 65 million people forcibly displaced globally, 4.8 million from Syria alone. Compounding matters is a partisan sentiment hostile towards the world’s most vulnerable populations in the name of national security, politicizing the greatest humanitarian disaster of our time. So how can we even begin to help? Here are a few ideas to get started.
Educate. Yourself, and others. Read, learn, or share a post on social media. As an advocate for refugees and civilians in conflict, I’ve tried not to take personally the vitriol directed at refugees because it is often due to a lack of knowledge of our refugee admissions process, and always due to misguided fear. The false notion that refugees are resettled to the US with little or no vetting is easily contradicted by even a superficial understanding of our refugee resettlement program: the US has the most stringent refugee resettlement program in the world that takes on average 18-24 months due to rigorous background checks. Refugees don’t choose their resettlement country, rather an ecosystem of international and government agencies including the Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees work together to determine resettlement referrals and triage the most desperate of cases. Keep learning, reading, and talking. Education is always the answer.
Contact your representative. Now more than ever, our representatives need to hear from you, even if they have already expressed support for refugees. Call, write, and if you have the time, schedule a meeting to urge them to welcome refugees. Public opinion matters. Your voice matters, and it’s important that you use it to advocate for those that aren’t in a position to advocate for themselves.
Support Social Entrepreneurship and Local Fundraising Efforts. Refugee support organizations always welcome donations, but buying products made by or otherwise associated with refugees is a fantastic way to empower displaced persons by creating a symbiotic economic environment. Clifton resident Kathy Hertz has partnered with Hydrangea Home & Gift Boutique in Historic Clifton to sell earrings from which 100 percent of the proceeds go directly to families in the Nea Kavala refugee camp in Northern Greece. Yoga studios frequently host donation classes to support featured organizations, and last year I partnered with several local studios and USA for UNHCR to raise money for Syrian refugees. Find ways to support local businesses while also supporting refugees.
Volunteer with a Local Refugee Resettlement Agency. With so much of the focus on the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe, it’s easy to overlook the families working to assimilate into our communities right here, right now. But they are here, quietly building a new life in a new country. Apply to be a volunteer with one of several local refugee resettlement agencies: the International Rescue Committee has offices in Charlottesville, Richmond, and Silver Spring. Church World Service is seeking volunteers to serve in various roles. Catholic Charities in Arlington, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, and other local faith-based organizations do much of the work to help refugees and immigrants get off to a strong start in their new surroundings. Contact them and ask how you can help.
I’ve seen it time and time again – whether coordinating meal delivery for a grieving family, organizing a vigil for a loved one gone too soon, or gathering household items for a family working to get back on their feet, Clifton is a place of unreserved inclusion, kindness, and generosity. Let’s extend the compassion that I see in our community every day to refugees, both here at home and around the world.
Rana E. Novack lives in Clifton and is an advocate for refugees and civilians in conflict.