Today is World Refugee Day 2020! While COVID restrictions are preventing in-person celebrations, there are still plenty of ways to observe the day online.

It has been about a year since I began volunteering with refugees, and it’s been such a blessing to me. In honor of World Refugee Day, I want to share some of the reasons why I am so passionate about advocating for refugees.

Refugees have impacted my life for the better

When I started volunteering with World Relief last August, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t know how I would be able to help people who spoke different languages and came from vastly different backgrounds. How could I relate to people who have been through so much?

Since that time, I have been amazed time and again at how easy it really is to find shared humanity in another person despite your differences. I’ve seen more hospitality and generosity than I ever could have imagined. And I’ve seen inspiring strength and determination in the face of so many challenges.

These lessons have come in the form of hot tea and an overflowing tray of fruits and nuts served to me at a table that is the only furnishing in the room. They’ve come in dogged determination to get a driver’s license and diligent study of English in order to secure better jobs. They’ve come in the form of invitations to dinner, blessings and kind words for my family, and warm hugs. I’ve watched the brave determination of women in their 50s and 60s who cannot read or write in their first language, but come every week to ESL class and struggle to master English because they know how important it is to function in American society. There are so many challenges to overcome, and these new friends show such resilience and grace as they face each one. I have so much to learn from them!

Refugees are valuable members of our society

Refugees are an industrious group. First, they are more likely to be entrepreneurs than native-born Americans. While only 9% of U.S. born citizens start their own businesses, 13% of refugees do. These refugee entrepreneurs contributed $4.6 billion to the U.S. economy in 20151. Refugees also have a higher rate of employment than the native-born population,2 and 4 in 10 Fortune 500 companies were started by refugees, immigrants, or the children of refugees and immigrants3.

Looking closer to home, the median household income of refugee families in Dallas (after 25 years of being in the U.S.) was over $68,000 in 2015. This is higher than the median income for the average Dallas household3. The state of Texas received $422 million in state and local taxes from refugees in 20153.

Beside the financial benefits of welcoming refugees to the U.S., it is a benefit to our society for us to have their friendship and perspectives. There is so much to learn from people with different backgrounds and experiences. While so many of us are used to very easy and convenient lives, refugees have been forced to be resourceful due to their life circumstances. There is wisdom in listening to the life lessons of those who have walked a different road.

Where can I learn more?

There are several organizations that work with refugees and offer a plethora of information about the current global refugee crisis, refugee resettlement in the U.S., and ways to help. I have personally worked with the World Relief North Texas and Refugee Services of Texas, and they are great organizations. Some others that I follow online are:

Another way to support refugees is through businesses that are refugee-owned or those that provide jobs and skills training for refugees.

Refugee Day Events

Video from Preemptive Love Coalition

Why care about World Refugee Day?

I care about World Refugee Day because I care about refugees. We live in a time with unprecedented numbers of refugees and displaced people in the world. Just this week, the UNHCR released their latest report showing the latest numbers from year-end 2019. According to their reports, 79.5 million people in the world had been displaced from their homes, an increase of 8.7 million in one year4.

These numbers are horrific. Even in the midst of rising numbers of refugees, the U.S. is also taking unprecedented measures to reduce refugee resettlement. President Trump lowered the refugee cap to a historically low 18,000 this year. It is doubtful that we will even reach that number because resettlement has been at a standstill in recent months due to COVID-19 immigration restrictions.

There is a lot going on in the world, and many issues to care about and champion. I believe that now more than ever, it is essential for us to care about the tens of millions of men, women, and children worldwide who have been forced to flee their homes.

Imagine trying to shelter-in-place or socially distance during a pandemic when you have no home — no safe place to retreat. I pray that a year from now, when we celebrate World Refugee Day 2021, we will have a more welcoming world for our neighbors.

“Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels. Remember the prisoners as if chained with them – those who are mistreated – since you yourselves are in the body also.”

Hebrew 13:2-3