In recognition of World Refugee Day, the U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security honored 19 refugees who recently completed the naturalization process. Today, they stood together to make their pledge of allegiance and begin their lives as American citizens.
Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns spoke at today's ceremony and described the United States' legacy of admitting refugees: "Although this is World Refugee Day, it means something special to the American people. Centuries before the world defined what it means to be a refugee, America was already a place of refuge. We welcomed to our shores men, women, and children fleeing hunger, poverty, persecution, and desperation, from the Irish potato famine and the Russian pogroms of the 19th century to conflict and instability in East Africa today. Our culture and our character is defined by their contributions, by the Americans they became. It is how we became who we are."
The State Department works closely with the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services to resettle refugees in the United States through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. Since 1975 alone, more than 3 million refugees have been able to start new lives through this program, and many go on to become citizens.
Department of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Jane Lute paid tribute to the work of two previously naturalized citizens, whose contributions have shaped U.S. culture and government policy. Maria Otero currently serves as Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, and has been a major supporter of microfinance initiatives in developing countries. She immigrated to the United States from Bolivia at the age of twelve. Dr. Khaled Hosseini, a physician and best-selling author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, came to the United States when he was fifteen, seeking refuge from Afghanistan.
As the new Americans took the stage to receive their certificates, it became clear that each had overcome many obstacles to make it there. One couple, who completed the naturalization process together, fled the war in Bosnia with their two children. They first went to Germany, where they later were resettled as refugees to the United States. With the help of a local charity, they were able to find work and learn English.
Another man came to the United States when he was a child, born in a refugee camp in Thailand. His parents fled civil war and upheaval in Cambodia. Currently, he serves in the U.S. Marine Corps; he says that he was inspired to take up the challenge of the U.S. Marines because of the trials his family went through to reach safety.
The Unites States is a proud supporter and leader of international humanitarian assistance efforts. Every year, the United States supports protection and assistance activities for refugees around the world, through international partners such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). In so doing, we demonstrate our global leadership in saving lives, alleviating suffering and minimizing the economic costs of conflict, disasters, and displacement. Our humanitarian leadership defines who we are as a nation and embodies the best of our values as a people.
For more information on the work of the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, visit our web page. You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter. You can view our most recent Twitter Q & A session, during which Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration Anne Richard talked about World Refugee Day, on Storify.