Refugee program celebrates illustrious history of providing a “home”

“On World Refugee Day, let us reaffirm the importance of solidarity and burden-sharing by the international community. Refugees have been deprived of their homes, but they must not be deprived of their futures.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Message for World Refugee Day 2010

June 20 is a significant day for the international community and one that has a special meaning to Jewish Family and Children Services (JF&CS) and its many partners that have helped the agency have a far-reaching, international impact by resettling refugees since 1937.

JF&CS has been a leader in successfully assuring that countless refuges who have fled their homes due to fear of persecution or imprisonment due to their race, religion, ethnicity or membership in a particular political or social movement aren’t deprived of their future.

World Refugee Day is celebrated on June 20th each year and 2011 marks the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees which defined who is a refugee, their rights and the legal obligations of the states. The theme of this year’s observance is “Home” – and highlights the plight of the world’s 15 million refugees, more than three-quarters of them in the developing world, who have been uprooted from their homes by conflict or persecution.

JF&CS has worked hard to uphold the values of the 1951 convention; however its involvement in refugee resettlement began long before 1951 with reuniting families torn apart during World World II and then continued with resettlement during Vietnam, and resettlement of Jews from the former Soviet Union and Bosnia. Most recently we have resettled refugees from Burma, Iraq and Bhutan as a result of the current political unrest.

In addition to primary resettlement services, JF&CS also supports the growing influx of refugees coming to Pittsburgh that had been resettled originally in other U.S. cities.
JF&CS helps refugees to establish homes in many Pittsburgh neighborhoods. They have all benefited immensely from the vital, multi-faceted services provided by JF&CS’s refugee program, which includes:

· Apartment set-up, provisioning with furniture, food and 
  clothing
· Welcoming families at airport
· Cultural orientation
· School and ESL (English as a Second Language) registration
· Social security and welfare application
· Employment and job search assistance
· Healthcare referrals
· Legal assistance on immigration issues
· U.S. Naturalization and Citizenship assistance (the program
  boasts a 95% pass rate on the U.S. Citizenship test).

Since we first opened our doors in 1937, JF&CS has resettled tens of thousands of refugees. Our refugee services are funded through Federal and State grants and through a collaboration with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), the international body that represents the Jewish community around the world and supports the work of JF&CS and other similar Jewish organizations throughout the U.S. Locally JF&CS partners with other social service agencies, government offices, schools and community, faith-based and ethnic groups.

We began our refugee work helping Jews fleeing oppression and insecurity during World War II, and in the spirit of tikkun olam-the Jewish people’s mandate to repair the world-continue to work on behalf of those around the world facing persecution.

The program is always looking for volunteers to help continue its important work. To learn more about the program or to volunteer, contact Leslie Aizenman, Refugee Services Director, at 412.422.7200 or laizenman@jfcspgh.org.

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