Building a new life

As refugees come to the U.S. to build a better life, organizations like the International Rescue Committee help them get back on their feet and contribute to a state’s economic development. 

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) was founded in 1933 to help refugees fleeing from Europe before and during WWII. The organization has since helped those fleeing harmful conditions restart their lives.  

“The IRC in Phoenix was actually set up in 1994. This is our 25th anniversary and we’ve helped 15,000 refugees restart their lives in the Phoenix area,” said Stanford Prescott, community engagement coordinator at IRC-Phoenix. 

“Six months after arrival, 84 percent of the refugees we work with are self-sufficient. That means they have a job and they’re paying their bills,” Prescott said. “And, to me I think that really speaks to the character and the resilience of the refugees that we work with.” 

IRC Phoenix provides a variety of services to refugees including assisting with apartment hunting, job preparation, school enrollment for children, financial literacy classes and more.  

“When refugees arrive, they’re coming from a wide variety of backgrounds. Some may have never received a formal education for a variety of reasons in their home countries. Some may have been college educated, fluent in English. They were professionals,” Prescott said.  

The IRC-Phoenix helps the refugees translate their unique talents into jobs as they start their new lives in Arizona.  

The organization also works with employers to educate them on the unique challenges refugees face and to create employment opportunities.  

“We have an employment team and we do outreach and work with employers to build those relationships to educate them about refugees and what kind of things they might be experiencing. Both some of the strengths the refugees have, but also some of the challenges. For many of these folks, it’s their first time in an American workplace,” Prescott said. 

As refugees and other foreign-born residents land jobs, start businesses and build a life in Phoenix, it creates an economic impact.  

Foreign-born Arizona residents paid $1 billion in federal taxes and more than $530 million in state and local taxes in 2014, according to the New Americans in Phoenix report.  

The report also stated that immigration to Phoenix increased the city’s total housing value by $3.2 billion between 2000 and 2014.

“When refugees come, there are some myths there that refugees are a burden on society. But, the reality is that they’re giving back to our local communities through their economic persistence and their economic endeavors,” Prescott explained.

While the economic benefits are important to Phoenix and the whole state, Prescott explained the top priority is to help those fleeing harmful conditions. 

 “To come to the U.S. as a refugee, you do have to have a real fear of being harmed in your home country due to your race, religion, nationality, membership of a social group or political opinion,” he said. “And, so we’re offering safety to men, women and children that are fleeing that violence back home and I think that’s first and foremost in importance.

Sierra Ciaramella

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