Michael F. Easley
Governor

The Great Seal of the State of North Carolina Carmen Hooker Odom
Secretary

North Carolina
Department of Health and Human Services

For Release: IMMEDIATE
Date: June 8, 2007

  Contact: Brad Deen

World Refugee Day

"A New Home, A New Life"

RALEIGH — Fleeing war and persecution in their homelands, thousands of refugees settle in the United States annually. More and more are calling North Carolina home.

In recognition of the courage that refugees exhibit, and of the contributions they make to their new communities, the N.C. State Refugee Office (an agency of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services) and communities across the state are observing World Refugee Day 2007 on June 20, as established by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The theme of this year’s observance is “A New Home, A New Life.”

North Carolina’s main World Refugee Day event will take place in Charlotte’s Bank of America Plaza, 100 N. Tryon St., on Wednesday, June 20, from 11:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. Festivity plans include guest speakers sharing their refugee experiences, entertainment and art by refugees now living in North Carolina and ethnic food. Other World Refugee Day celebrations across the state will be held in New Bern, High Point, Greensboro, Cary and Raleigh.

International law defines refugees as people who are unable or unwilling to return to their native countries because of a well-founded fear of death, imprisonment or other persecution based on ethnicity, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimates the worldwide refugee population at 12 million people.

The U.S. allows up to 70,000 refugees to enter and resettle annually, although tightened immigration and national security policies since 2001 have kept annual refugee numbers well below the ceiling — just over 52,000 in 2005, and 41,269 in 2006. North Carolina absorbed 1,763 refugees last year, or 4 percent of the national total.

North Carolina has become an increasingly prominent destination for refugees. In the 1990s, the state typically handled between 1 and 2 percent of the national refugee influx. Since 2002, North Carolina has been reclassified by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement as a “large” resettlement state.

Refugees from 37 countries settled or joined family in 25 North Carolina counties last year, led by Mecklenburg (539), Guilford (450), Wake (217), Craven (78) and Buncombe (47) counties. The state’s refugee population comes from across the globe—Africa (Congo, Somalia and Liberia), Asia (Myanmar, formerly know as Burma), Europe (Russia and Uzbekistan) and the Americas (Cuba).

North Carolina’s largest refugee communities consist of our former allies in the Vietnam War—about 15,000 Hmong from Laos (primarily in the Catawba Valley/Hickory area), and more than 8,000 Montagnards, which is the largest concentration of Montagnard people outside the highlands of Vietnam.

The N.C. State Refugee Office works with faith-based and other organizations to help refugees adjust to a new land and new way of life. At any given time, the State Refuge Office is helping more than 8,000 refugees achieve self-sufficiency through short-term (eight months maximum) financial assistance, housing and job placement, health care and training in skills ranging from driving to English.

Despite the challenges of adjusting to a strange new land with new customs, most refugees succeed. The job retention rate for refugees in North Carolina is 95 percent after 90 days, which is one of the highest rates in the nation. Last year, more than 1,100 refugees in North Carolina were taking English classes, and almost 900 were working toward U.S. citizenship.

Refugees are your neighbors, coworkers and new friends. You can help them open the door to a new home and a new life.

Other World Refugee Day 2007 celebrations in North Carolina include:

  • Saturday, June 16, New Bern—Farmers Market, 421 S. Front St., 11 a.m.-3 p.m., displays of arts and crafts, music and food by Burmese, Montagnard and Meskhetian Turk refugee groups.
  • Saturday, June 16, Greensboro—Historical Museum, 130 Summit Ave., 11 a.m.-3 p.m., demonstrations of cultural arts, crafts, music, dance and poetry by refugee groups.

There will also be special screenings of the award-winning documentary “Rain in a Dry Land” throughout the state. The film chronicles the struggles of the persecuted Bantu people of Somalia and their efforts to assimilate in the U.S. (North Carolina in recent years has welcomed nearly 500 Bantu refugees, mostly in Mecklenburg County.) “Rain” will be shown:

  • Saturday, June 16, Greensboro—Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, 607 N. Greene St., 6 p.m.
  • Saturday, June 16, High Point—Emmanuel Lutheran Church, 1401 Heathcliff Road, 6 p.m.
  • Wednesday, June 20, Cary—Galaxy Cinema, 770 Cary Towne Blvd., 6 p.m. The event includes light hors d’oeuvres, live music and an exhibit of traditional clothing and handicrafts.
  • Thursday, June 21, Charlotte—Levine Jewish Community Center, 5007 Providence Road, 7 p.m. A question-and-answer session with members of the local Bantu community will follow.
  • Saturday, June 23, Raleigh—N.C. Museum of Art, 2110 Blue Ridge Road, 2 p.m. A discussion with a question-and-answer session will follow.

 

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Debbie Crane
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