Refugees: Who, What, and Why

“Refugees”: the very word likely evokes a variety of emotions for many, including our own congregation. There is much anxiety, confusion, and controversy in the air today about immigration in general, with the unfortunate result that the specific immigration category of refugees sometimes gets unfairly mixed in with other, separate concerns.

Our hope with this piece is to shed more light on the subject of refugees and to reduce some of the misunderstanding, as well as to remind ourselves and others about what Glenn has been doing and what we can still do to support the large refugee community in Atlanta. And perhaps most importantly, to remember the theological reasons that prompt us to commit to this work.

A refugee is a special category of immigrant who has undergone a lengthy and multi-step process in order to be admitted into the U.S. or other country. First, the status of “refugee” must be determined by the United Nations, based on well-founded reasons for fleeing the person’s native country because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a social group, or their political opinion. The U.S. hand-selects every person who is admitted into our country as a refugee and gives priority to refugees who have been targeted by violence. Second, for entry into the U.S. the person must be referred to the U.S. refugee admissions program by the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, or by a U.S. embassy or approved humanitarian aid organization. Fewer than 1% of the nearly 20 million refugees in the world are considered for resettlement worldwide. Third, refugees undergo the most intensive vetting process of any other type of immigrant seeking to enter the U.S. Refugees seeking entry into the U.S. undergo security screenings by multiple agencies, including the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security. The total vetting process typically takes up to 36 months.

Once a refugee has been cleared for resettlement into the U.S., the U.S. government works with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and eight other national resettlement agencies to help them make a new start in America. In metro Atlanta, IRC is one of five resettlement agencies supporting our very large refugee community, many of whom have settled in the Clarkston area. Newly arrived refugees receive stipends to cover their first few months in the U.S., but they must be self-supporting after that. Many successfully assimilate into American culture, become U.S. citizens, and contribute to their communities.

Churches and other organizations and individuals assist agencies like IRC by providing funding for refugee family sponsorship, which offsets the federal funding those agencies receive and enables the federal funds to go farther in assisting the refugee community. Family sponsorship also enables a church to develop a relationship with the sponsored family, in many cases a relationship that persists long after the sponsorship period has officially ended. Glenn had been planning to undertake such a sponsorship this year, but the recent changes in U.S. policy on refugees (placing a 120-day hold on admitting any more refugees and reducing the total number of refugees for 2017 from 110,000 to 50,000) have made it impossible for IRC and other resettlement agencies to offer a family sponsorship program for the rest of this year.

Glenn has been involved with support of refugees through IRC for the past several years through the work of two of our service committees: Environmental and Missions. For our 2017 monthly day of service initiative, the service opportunity for the last two months has been focused on Atlanta's refugee population. On Saturday February 25, a group of Glenn folks spent the morning at the IRC community garden near North DeKalb Mall. We weeded, spread mulch, and climbed a mountain (of mulch)! In the process, we forged new friendships, sweated a bit, and cleared a path between garden plots. It might not seem like much, but to those who garden there, it means a lot that people are willing to come out and spend a Saturday morning to help them as they adjust to their new life in Atlanta. The garden is appropriately named the "New Roots Community Garden", a fitting name for a place for new growth. This was the Glenn Environmental Committee's third year assisting with the garden.

On Saturday March 25, a group of about 15 Glenn folks gathered at IRC’s Resettlement Store near Northlake Mall. This continued a tradition that the Missions Committee has followed for the last three years of spending a couple of hours on a Saturday morning working as “stock clerks”, sorting donated items that are in large plastic bags or cardboard boxes in the storeroom and placing them in the appropriate racks or shelves in the store itself. By the time our volunteers leave, the racks and shelves are packed full. But, we are told, by the following Tuesday the racks and shelves will all be empty as the refugee families come in and take all the items they need, free of charge. IRC depends strictly on volunteers to help keep the store stocked each week, so this remains a wonderful opportunity for Glenn to be involved in a meaningful way in helping our refugee neighbors.

We believe that when we choose to help refugees, we are engaging in Jesus’ work of being in relationship with and being of service to the least, the last, and the lost. We live into our congregation's desire to "Love God, Love Neighbor" more fully and embody Jesus' teaching of welcoming the stranger.

If you can't join us in these “hands-on” volunteer activities, but are interested in learning or doing more, here are other ways you can help (information provided by IRC). Some of these are political advocacy steps, others are for becoming better informed, others are for providing financial help. Whatever your preference, we hope you will consider becoming involved.


Albert Sheffer, Missions Chair
Lynn Speno, Environmental Chair





1.  Sign up and participate in once per day advocacy action alerts.

2. Sign up and participate in the Coalition of Refugee Service Agencies action alerts.

4. Call and email Senator Isakson (770.661.0999), Senator Perdue (404.865. 0087), Governor Deal (404.656.1776), and your specific Congressman every day and let them know: “I support refugee resettlement in the U.S. and in my community. I oppose limiting entry for any person based on where he or she is from or based on religion.”

Stay Informed

1. Like and follow the IRC in Atlanta on Facebook. Share posted stories often and openly. Please also share this email on your personal Facebook page.

2. Sign up to receive the IRC in Atlanta’s monthly newsletter, action alerts and more. You must enter your Georgia zip code to ensure you receive the Atlanta office’s newsletter.

3. Like and follow the Coalition of Refugee Service Agencies on Facebook. Share posted stories often and openly.  

4. Follow the Coalition of Refugee Service Agencies on Twitter and retweet often.

5. Send your name and mailing address to Ariana to be added to our mailing list.


1. Make a donation to the International Rescue Committee in Atlanta. Follow this link specifically to ensure your gift stays in Georgia where it is needed most. 

2. Mail a donation directly to: International Rescue Committee, 2305 Parklake Drive, Suite 100 Atlanta, GA 30345

3. Hold your own fundraiser in person or online for the IRC in Atlanta. Contact Ariana for help with materials and assistance.

4. Many companies have programs in place where they provide matching gifts to nonprofits that an employee volunteers with or donates to. You may be able to double or even triple your donation if your company offers a matching gift program.

5. Volunteer with us. Contact our volunteer coordinator at or 678-636-8928 and view our volunteer opportunities on our web page.