Refugee Admissions: Lessons Learned in the Wake of the Holocaust Brought to Life Last Month by Amy Lefkof

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This July 28th will mark the 70th Anniversary of the signing of the 1951 International Refugee Convention, which is the key legal document (along with its 1967 Protocol) that defines a refugee as a person with a well-founded fear of persecution “because of reasons of race, religion, national origin, membership of a particular social group or political opinion,” and outlines the rights of refugees as well as the legal obligations of nation states to protect them.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) serves as the guardian of the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol.

The Refugee Convention builds on Article 14 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes the right of persons to seek asylum from persecution in other countries.

These documents were adopted in the wake of the Holocaust, when many European Jews were murdered after being denied a safe haven by potential resettlement countries. The 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol challenge all nations to consider what happens when shut our borders to the persecuted and vulnerable. The message echoes Jewish and interfaith religious texts and ethical teachings, where a core value is to welcome the stranger.

On May 3rd, President Joe Biden fulfilled his campaign pledged to raise the United States refugee admissions cap. The new presidential determination number (as this refugee admission ceiling is called) for fiscal year 2021 is 62,500 — light years away from former President Trump’s paltry 15,000 ceiling for fiscal year 2021— and 125,000 for fiscal year 2022.

In response to Biden’s move to rebuild refugee resettlement by raising the ceiling number, Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS (formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) said:  “No act is more American or more Jewish than welcoming the stranger.”

How can the Charlotte community help in the effort to rebuild refugee resettlement?


Carolina Refugee Resettlement Agency (CRRA), headed by Executive Director Marsha Hirsch, is a local affiliate of HIAS. As they help resettle refugees in the weeks and months ahead, CRRA can use donations of gift cards to Walmart, Target, and grocery stores as they set up apartments for new arrivals. Once new arrivals are scheduled, CRRA may put out a call for specific clothing or furniture needs.

“No act is more American or more Jewish than welcoming the stranger.”

In addition, Refugee Support Services (RSS) continues to distribute at least 100 COVID relief boxes with fresh food and basic need supplies each Wednesday to local refugee families. Drop off donations every Wednesday morning between 8:30-9:30 at the parking lot behind the Galilee Center on Central Avenue. You can go to RSS’s website to sign up to bring fresh fruit or vegetables. Through RSS’s Fruitful Friend program, you can get information on how to volunteer to be a buddy family to a refugee family.


If you want to help with advocacy for refugees or asylum seekers (e.g., Senator Markey of Massachusetts introduced the GRACE act with Rep. Zoe Lofgren and Rep. Joe Neguse, legislation that would statutorily lift the annual refugee cap to 125,000 in each fiscal year), the Greenspon Center is here to guide you.

On our website you can view a video recording of an 8-week Refugee Advocacy training program. Each session includes an academic or professional presentation and a dialogue on potential pathways for advocacy.

To speak to someone about how you can use your voice and circle of influence to impact this and other policies surrounding welcoming refugees and immigrants locally and nationally, contact

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