Refugees | Welcoming America

Category: Refugees

Video: Where will you find common ground in your community?

Welcoming America | July 19, 2017


The divides among Americans may seem vast these days, but Welcoming America believes that in many communities, there is a very different narrative that should be lifted up: Stories of diverse people finding common ground and making an impact in each other’s lives.

When a Jewish couple in Atlanta, GA, met a Kurdish Muslim refugee couple from Syria, the unexpected happened. They forged a strong friendship and strengthened the bonds of connection in their community.

“We met Hasan and Rania through our friend Dr. Heval Kelli and volunteered to help them learn English because we felt helpless with everything that was going on in the world. My husband, Adam, and I wanted to do something proactive. We started coming to their house every Tuesday night to work with Rania on her driver’s license test and Hasan on job interview skills. As our relationship progressed, they wanted to spend less time studying and more time seeing Atlanta, so we started going out into the world. We don’t think of them as a volunteer activity, we just think of them as friends,” said Joanie Twersky. 

The friendship between the two couples has evolved into a larger social circle and regularly involves dinner parties, playing soccer, going to movies, bowling, and much more. Joanie and Adam even threw Rania and Hasan a Green Card party earlier this year.

“When I was growing up, we still heard first-hand accounts of the Holocaust including stories of non-Jewish people who risked their lives to hide Jews. I often wondered to myself – if the situation was reversed would I put myself at risk, would I put my whole family at risk in order to protect someone else when I could just do nothing and remain safe? Thankfully, I have never been faced with that decision. But we make another form of that decision every day when we watch the news and it’s overwhelmingly and sad and ultimately doesn’t affect us. We have to make a decision about whether to turn it off and disconnect and go about the rest of our day or act. And that’s as tough a decision, because it’s really easy to do nothing.

If I could ask one thing of people, it would be not to disconnect when it is hard. Your greatest influence is always going to be local, in your own community. Chances are there are people right there that are going through more than you know. And you have the ability to be present in their lives and have a really rich relationship that can make a difference for both of you,” said Joanie Twersky.

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#8ways you can support refugees in your community

Amanda Bailly | June 20, 2017

Photo Credit: Matej Povse

Two years ago, I traveled 2,700 miles across Europe with a Syrian family that was fleeing the war in their home country. Sham, a single mother, and her two kids crossed the sea in an inflatable raft, and together we traveled from the Greek islands to the German capital, where they started a new life.

I filmed the journey, and the result is 8 Borders, 8 Days, a feature documentary that is both an intimate story of this family and an immersive experience of their journey. The audience travels with Sham, Yaman, and Lulu as they run across Lesbos, push through violent riot police in Macedonia, and cross through the cornfields into Hungary by moonlight. But there are also moments of lightness and humor, when you’re forced to remember that these are two young kids, much like your own.

I made this journey because I wanted Americans to see the consequences of closing our doors to refugees. Sham and her two kids had applied to be resettled to the US, but with no reply to their application, Sham decided that a smuggler’s raft was the safest option available.

“You know you are crazy when you get in this crowded raft, but there wasn’t any other option available," Sham said.

We are screening the film in communities across the country to bring people together to talk about how they can be welcoming to newcomers - and why it’s so important to our shared future to do so.

We have witnessed moments of incredible kindness and generosity from new groups of activated Americans ready to make our communities proud places of welcome. They might not make many news headlines, but they’re out there doing the hard work of making their communities safe and tolerant spaces. These welcomers are building bridges between newcomers and long-time residents and helping newcomers feel a sense of belonging in their new homes. In doing so, they are making their communities better places for all residents.

On World Refugee Day, we at 8 Borders, 8 Days are launching an #8ways campaign to support refugees. Together with our partner organizations, including Welcoming America, we have identified eight simple pathways for people to immediately support refugees. One of those ways is to host a screening of 8 Borders, 8 Days. We invite you to bring members of your community together around the topic of welcoming, and sign up to host a screening. We make it very easy and support you throughout the process.

It is because of the strength, courage and resilience that I witnessed in Sham and her family that we determined to bring their story to the cities and town in the US that will benefit most from hearing the personal stories of the people affected by the immigration debate.

Together, let’s make our communities places of safety and dignity for the families who were fortunate enough to be resettled here. Will you join us?

Screen 8 Borders, 8 Days in your community

Hosting a film screening can encourage discussion, bring people together, and mobilize supporters for your welcoming work. Welcoming Week is an ideal time to screen this film as a part of your broader welcoming efforts.

If you decide to host, you will also receive a discussion guide created by Welcoming America specifically for the film. You can also invite the filmmaker, Amanda Bailly, to speak in person or via Skype at your event.

To learn more, visit or email [email protected].

About Amanda Bailly

Amanda Bailly is an American independent filmmaker based in Beirut, Lebanon.  In 2015, she followed a single Syrian mother and her two kids from Beirut to Berlin when they fled with smugglers. The film, 8 Borders, 8 Days, premiered in April 2017 and is currently touring the country in film festivals and community screenings. She also produces documentaries and web videos for human rights organizations, primarily Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, and the United Nations.  Previously, she was a producer for Human Rights Watch’s multimedia team in New York.  She studied journalism and Middle East history at Boston University.

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Executive Action undermines our nation’s core values

Welcoming America | January 20, 2017

Our shared prosperity relies on the innovation and creativity of people who come from all over the world, all walks of life, and all faiths and cultural traditions. Providing protection to those seeking safety from violence and persecution is one of our nation’s proudest and longest standing traditions. It represents who we are as a people.

Welcoming America strongly opposes President Trump’s Executive Action that among other things would temporarily suspend the entire U.S. refugee resettlement program and institute extreme vetting for individuals seeking refuge from war-torn countries.

Refugees of many faiths and ethnicities are being welcomed by Americans in communities across the country. They are integrating successfully, and they are contributing economically, civically, and socially to their new homes. These refugees are our coworkers, neighbors, friends, business owners, community leaders, and proud American citizens and voters.

We vehemently oppose any proposal or statements calling for a ban on refugees, as well as discrimination based on religion or nationality. As a nation founded in part by refugees and immigrants, these kind of discriminatory policies dishonor our history, beliefs and values.

This Executive Order will not make us safer. It simply feeds the rhetoric of fear and distrust in the United States, and marginalizes new Americans who want to contribute to their new communities and country. By protecting those whose liberties and lives are at risk, we affirm our values, and we model them for the world at a time when moral courage is sorely needed. The United States has the responsibility to lead with compassion and strength and embody the values that are the fabric of our nation.

Welcoming America stands with our refugee neighbors of all faiths, and we pledge to continue to fight discrimination in all its forms.

We call on members of this Administration and Congress to reverse this announcement.

Take Action

  1. Sign the Petition
    Tell the President that America is a welcoming country and that stopping this program will have profound and detrimental consequences.
  2. Call your U.S. Senators and Representatives to tell them you welcome refugees, and that our country should live up to its values and remaining a welcoming place. Here are ideas of what else you can tell them.
  3. Call and thank your mayor and other local officials who are supporting immigrants and refugees, or urge them to do so.
  4. Support local organizations that help immigrants and refugees. They need your help more than ever. Volunteer, donate, or support a refugee family. Find volunteer opportunities here.

You can help Welcoming America’s efforts to welcome immigrants and refugees by donating today.


Welcoming America leads a growing movement of communities becoming more prosperous by helping all residents be able to fully participate in economic, social, and civic opportunities. Reducing barriers to participation for immigrants and refugees means barriers are reduced for all residents – welcoming helps everyone thrive. One in every eight Americans live in a Welcoming Community through our growing network. Learn more at

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New Video: Stay-at-home mom and Sudanese refugee find common ground

Welcoming America | December 15, 2016



Stay-at-home mom Becca Clary found common ground with Sudanese refugee Fatima Bakhit through a cultural exchange program at Kentucky Refugee Ministries. Not only has Becca helped Fatima feel welcome in her new home and learn English, she also has gained a friend. 

Building a nation of neighbors starts right where you are: in your community, and there are ways you can make a difference, too. Together, let’s build bridges and demonstrate that our differing identities are assets in making our communities and nation stronger. 

We may not all share the same history, but we share one future: will you consider volunteering your time or giving resources to your local refugee-serving organizations at this important time?

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Strengthening our communities: How to build understanding and counter fear of refugees and Muslims

Welcoming America | November 7, 2016

Stand Together and Neighbors Together will help you build understanding in your community and counter fear of “others” by sharing promising practices of welcome for all. We hope that these toolkits strengthen your community as residents get to know their neighbors.

Demographic changes are happening across the United States, and many Americans don’t know who their new neighbors are or why they are here. Without genuine personal interactions, it’s too easy for assumptions and misunderstanding to take hold.

Americans as a whole are generally unfamiliar with Islam. This means that instead of having an authentic and shared experience of someone, their impressions are based on images and sentiments they see in the media. It’s also possible they know families who are Muslim, but don’t realize it because they have been taught to expect Muslims to look and act in certain ways that aren’t necessarily true.

This is especially important, because in many Americans’ minds right now, the words “refugee” and “Muslim” are deeply linked even though refugees come from every religion and background, and there have been many Muslim families in America for generations.

There is also a very good chance that even someone who is well meaning and generally welcomes new Americans, but lacks exposure and experience with Muslim Americans, may lean toward seeing them as “other” rather than valued community members. This is a chance to give people the opportunity to do better.

In America, our individual identities are complex and multilayered. The more we can model this through stories that build connections, the more that people can begin to develop a new and deeper relationship to people from which they may otherwise feel disconnected.

The more authentic we are and the more compassionate we are — even toward those who question welcoming efforts — the more likely we can help people who may be unsure to grow and become part of their new communities.

We hope that our new resources are a source of guidance for you and your community.

Stand Together: Messaging to Support Refugees in Challenging Times

Demographic changes are happening in communities across the United States, and many Americans are unsure about their new neighbors. Learn constructive ways to push back on negative stereotypes and reaffirm your community's shared values.

Download Stand Together

Neighbors Together: Promising Practices to Strengthen Relations with Refugees & Muslims

This companion toolkit lifts up promising practices happening across the country to counter negative rhetoric, bullying, and discrimination against Muslim Americans and refugees. These bright spots — communities actively welcoming through simple gestures, statements of alliance, and people stepping out of comfort zones to stand with their neighbors — offer hope for all.

Download Neighbors Together

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CNN op-ed: How refugees help their new communities

Welcoming America | June 21, 2016

"Refugee" is a loaded word. It conjures up images of traumatized people living in crowded camps and inevitably leads to major rifts in national politics. The current debate centers on "Will refugees be allowed in our country?" But this short-term focus often obfuscates a more fundamental one -- "What happens to refugees once they arrive in communities and become, simply, our neighbors?"

While much has been written about strengthening borders and toughening immigration law, relatively little attention has been paid to the local acceptance of refugees and the ways in which they are successfully incorporated into their new communities.

Once integrated, though, refugees help communities grow economically, creating new businesses and professional opportunities. They also enhance social and civic participation, taking more active roles in local politics and governance.

Read more on CNN

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Promising Practice in Refugee Welcome: Mommy & Me

Welcoming America | May 31, 2016

English school gives refugee mothers and their young children an opportunity to build community and a sense of belonging and helps reduce barriers for inclusion among this often overlooked group.

Hawa Abdelrahmin’s kind smile hides that by 8:30 on a sunny Thursday morning, she’s already had a very busy day. After walking a mile to take six-year-old son Ahmed to kindergarten with siblings Youssef (3) and Susan (8 months) in tow, she headed next to English class before getting a call that Ahmed was sick with pinkeye and must be taken home.

Now Hawa is in the middle of a “hallway consultation” with Mommy & Me Director Jennifer Green, who picked up the family and brought them to the Friends of Refugees building in Clarkston, Georgia; Mommy & Me is a program within the organization that specifically helps refugee mothers and children. Alternately on the phone with a nurse and a pharmacy for eye drops, Jennifer was hoping to help Hawa avoid scheduling a doctor’s appointment.

“There are so many barriers for refugee mothers to participate and thrive in their communities,” says Jennifer Green. “Mothers often are not even on people’s radar. If Ahmed needs an appointment, where could he go? Hawa doesn’t have transportation, appointment hours are often restrictive, and she has two other young children with no child care. Meanwhile, she’s trying to recover from the trauma of being a refugee and actively learning English to give her family new opportunities.”

Jennifer Green

There are so many barriers for refugee mothers to participate and thrive in their communities.

-Jennifer Green, Mommy & Me Director

The bustling hallway at Mommy & Me has classrooms for babies, toddlers, and preschool-aged children of refugee mothers; it’s the only place in town that provides such high quality – and free - child care. There are sounds of children doing structured play and interacting with each other. Upstairs in a series of classrooms, their mothers are learning English, studying U.S. citizenship requirements, and gaining a sense of community.

“It’s so clear in our community who has felt welcomed,” says Jennifer Green. “It’s survival versus being part of a community and thriving. I can see it in our students. We are here to teach language, but just as much to create a sense of belonging and welcome. English is just a means.”

Mommy & Me has about 200 students – mothers and their children - enrolled from September to May and a staff of eight that includes 3 ESL teachers, lead and assistant teachers, and up to 10 daily volunteers. Classes go from 9-12 each day, and then there is time for mothers to interact with their children while reading books.

Over 28 languages are represented by the mothers, who are separated into different classes by English ability. In the beginner class, they may first need to learn how to simply hold a pencil or which way to turn paper, as some didn’t write in their home countries.

In the mid-level English classroom, a mother rushes out with a fussy baby on her back. The teacher runs after her – “It was just a little cry, come back!” Jennifer explains: “We let mothers keep their babies with them in class if they want, but often they are very sensitive to disrupting others. We used to have classes downstairs, but if a mom heard any baby cry, they would all rush to see if it was theirs!”

The program does no advertising and is consistently full, with a long wait list.

“Women who have found us have been resourceful,” said Jennifer. “There are so many women still in their apartments with no help. We have to turn people away because of funding.”

But for those who do attend Mommy & Me, the difference it makes on their lives is huge.

“We didn’t know anyone when we first arrived but now, I feel like I belong to my community,” said Hawa, who has attended English classes at Mommy & Me for over two years. “I can go to the market and interact with people or to school meetings and understand what teachers are asking us to do. The program makes daily life easier for us.”


As classes end for the summer, Jennifer actively is planning play groups and library visits to keep them all connected.

“If you feel welcome, it gives you the emotional grounding that makes other experiences positive,” said Jennifer. “It’s a nice way to live and a two-way street. When I welcome, I feel welcomed.”

Learn more about the Mommy & Me program

Share your refugee promising practice

About the Welcoming Refugees project

Welcoming America helps organizations and communities across the United States to prepare their communities for successful resettlement over the long term by fostering greater understanding and support for refugees through the Welcoming Refugees project, made possible by a cooperative agreement with the Office of Refugee Resettlement. We share new ideas, tools, and resources for how to build bridges between refugees and host communities, as well as tools to support your community engagement activities on how to promote welcoming school environments, ways to communicate about refugee contributions, and cross-sector planning efforts to promote community-wide welcome, and other topics.

Donate to Support Initiatives Like This

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We Welcome Refugees - This is Who We Are

Welcoming America | November 18, 2015

This past week has been one of great loss, and all of us at Welcoming America are deeply saddened by the tragic events in Paris, Beirut, Nigeria, and other parts of the world. It is particularly at times of tragedy and fear – when our values and resolve are most tested – that we must redouble our efforts to live up to our ideals, including serving as a beacon of hope to the persecuted. We must demonstrate our welcoming character because This is Who We Are.
Families from Syria who are seeking a better life embody American values that have guided our country since its founding -- packing up everything and moving to a new place takes courage and resilience. They’ve defied all odds to arrive in a safe place, and we have the opportunity to reaffirm our values by responding with compassion. Moreover, communities are stronger when they are welcoming.
We are deeply heartened by declarations of welcoming toward Syrian refugees coming from all corners of the country, from community members to religious leaders to mayors and governors. These voices, largely emanating from local communities, have unfortunately not been fully heard by many in this country. At Welcoming America we will be working to elevate the voices of the compassionate majority, reminding America and the world that this is who we are 
To that effect, we have created a This is Who We Are page where we are compiling a list of statements and actions coming from communities is support of Syrian refugees, and we invite you to help us grow this list. If you have an inspiring quote or story of welcome, please share it with us.

Here are some additional actions you can take in the time ahead:

Throughout our country’s history we have welcomed those seeking refuge regardless of where they were born or what religion they practice, and we have thrived because of it. We must continue to create inclusive communities where everyone has the opportunity to prosper and is treated with dignity and respect.

When we look back 10 or 20 years from now, we will remember that we weren’t hindered by our fears. Instead, we invited diverse new neighbors to join us in building a stronger community, and we all became better for it. This is Who We Are.

Take Action

  • Share with us inspiring quotes and welcoming stories you have seen or had.
  • Speak to civic and political leaders in your community to ask them to support Syrian refugees, and to raise their voices for Welcoming. Here are some messages that can be helpful during your conversations.
  • Tweet your support and stories of welcome by using the hashtag #RefugeesWelcome.
  • Work with a local government or nonprofit in our network to welcome Syrian refugees and lift up these important messages. View the list of the 80-plus communities in our welcoming network.
  • If your community is not part of our Welcoming network, learn how to change that.


Photo Credit: "Welcome refugees balloons - Refugee vigil Broadmeadows" by Takver is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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