Mar 28, 2016
Washington, D.C.

CHICAGO, United States, March 18 (UNHCR) – During a week-long visit to the United States, the head of the United Nations refugee agency welcomed Washington’s longstanding commitment to resettling more refugees than any other country and emphasized that managing the refugee crisis is a global responsibility.

Speaking on a visit to Chicago, where he met with refugees, US lawmakers and resettlement agencies, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said: “Resettlement addresses the needs of the most vulnerable and is the safest way to move people from one country to another. Refugees flee terror, they don’t bring terror to countries. Their arrival is very carefully vetted, so there should be no fear.”

War, conflict and persecution have forced around 60 million people worldwide to flee for their lives, the largest number since World War II. Nearly 20 million of these are refugees and more than half are children.

The conflict in Syria is the main driver of this global crisis, forcing more than 4.8 million Syrians to become refugees mostly in the neighbouring countries of Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

“Massive refugee flows are a global responsibility,” said Grandi. “The tragedy of Syria has shown that this cannot be just the responsibility of two or three countries bordering a country at war – the responsibility has to be shared more widely.”

The United States resettles more refugees than any other country including 90 per cent of African refugees. This year the US plans to resettle 85,000 refugees, including at least 10,000 from the Syria conflict.

“I hope the United States, along with European countries and others, will continue to increase the numbers of Syrian refugees that they resettle,” said Grandi. Last year, the United States resettled 70,000 refugees from 70 countries and it plans to increase this number to 100,000 in 2017.

While in the Midwestern city, Grandi visited RefugeeOne, a Chicago area non-profit that works with refugees fleeing war, persecution and terror, helping them to build new lives of safety, dignity and self-reliance.

Finding employment is a major step for a refugee to become self-reliant and one of the businesses that RefugeeOne has long partnered with is Eli’s Cheesecake Company, which has been employing refugees for over 25 years.

“For me, when I came to the United States in 1994, it was a blessing because Congo has had war for decades,” said Elias Kasongo, Eli’s manager for purchasing and materials, who was first placed to work at the cheesecake company as a cleaner more than 20 years ago.

“If you work hard then you can achieve things. I’d like to say thank you to America and to the people of America for opening the doors to people like me,” added Kasongo, who is now an American citizen.

“It takes UNHCR to protect us, RefugeeOne to place us in jobs and people like Marc to help us become productive,” he added, referring to the President of Eli’s Cheesecake Company.