San Diego Marks World Refugee Day
San Diego is one of the top destinations for refugees in the U.S.
Friday, June 21, 2013
People around the world are marking a somber World Refugee Day on Saturday as 45 million people globally are displaced from their homes because of war and violence.
San Diego County provides a welcome mat to an average of 3,500 refugees every year. The region is one of the top destinations for refugees in the United States.
Aired 6/21/13 on KPBS News.
People around the world are marking a somber World Refugee Day on Saturday as more than 45 million people globally are displaced from their homes because of war and violence. San Diego provides a welcome mat to approximately 3,500 refugees every year.
Since 1975, San Diego has resettled 100,000 refugees -- 80 percent have been women and children, said Bob Montgomery, executive director for the International Rescue Committee's San Diego office (IRC).
Montgomery said San Diego's community of refugees is quite diverse and includes Somalis, Congolese, Ethiopians, Iraqis, Cambodians and Bhutanese.
Montgomery said 12,000 refugees in San Diego have come from Iraq over the past five years.
"There had already been an existing Iraqi population in San Diego, especially the East County in El Cajon, and so a lot of them are rejoining relatives," said Montgomery.
The average stay in a refugee camp is 17 years, according to the IRC. Montgomery said refugees have often suffered greatly before arriving in San Diego.
"We do see people that have chronic illnesses that we need to address," he said. "People come with very little, certainly in the way of clothes and belongings of any kind. Certainly very little or no money and so they’re really starting all over."
The IRC works with the U.S. state department to integrate refugees into their new community.
"For each refugee that’s resettled, I think the amount we get is $1,850," said Montgomery, "of which we pass through $1,125 directly to the refugees, either in direct cash or through helping them secure housing and utilities, those kinds of things."
Montgomery said that in addition to entering into a new culture with a new language and with no belongings, refugees face many other challenges, including finding work, getting their children integrated in school and getting medical care.
"People who lived in refugee camps or refugee types of situations for a long period of time haven’t had access to comprehensive medical care and consequently may have conditions that have to be addressed before they’re employable or can make a successful resettlement," said Montgomery.
The Syrian civil war has contributed to the high number of world refugees. Montgomery said San Diego is receiving Iraqi refugees from Syria, but there's not a program yet for Syrian refugees to come to the United States.
"If the violence continues, the impacts continue, and the suffering of the refugees continues, I think the United States will have to take a closer look at including Syrian refugees into the flow to the United States and assisting them to rebuild their lives," Montgomery said.
San Diegans will pay tribute to refugees who have resettled here from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Market Creek Plaza located at 404 Euclid Ave. in San Diego.