Safety and Peace for Refugees

Established in Connecticut over 30 years ago, IRIS (Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services) helps refugees and displaced individuals find safety in the United States.

Although he now plays with the carefree joy characteristic of most children, not long ago two-year-old Anas lived in fear with few toys of his own. The children and adults of war-torn or unstable countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Colombia and more, flee terrible conditions and persecution in search of a better life. One New Haven nonprofit greets these battered and frightened refugees with open arms.

Established in Connecticut over 30 years ago, IRIS (Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services) helps refugees and displaced individuals find safety in the United States. By assisting approximately 500 refugees annually, 230 of which are new arrivals requiring resettlement, IRIS transforms pain and suffering into safety and peace, all while preparing individuals to assimilate into their new country.

When refugees first arrive in Connecticut, everything is new. Navigating daily life, such as utilizing public transportation, locating housing, purchasing food, and adjusting to our many forms of technology, can all be difficult and intimidating. As a result, the agency offers virtually everything a refugee needs to adjust to life in the US, from English lessons to bus orientation, all teamed with loving care.

Recently approximately 15 women from Afghanistan participated in a stress-relieving yoga session. Although yoga classes are accessible throughout New Haven, in their native country such a communal, joyful activity would not have been possible.

All of the resettlement services provided by IRIS require the hands-on support of dedicated staff and volunteers. As Executive Director, Chris George explained, "Helping someone adjust to life in America requires intensive, one-on-one attention. Nothing is more helpful to a refugee than the comforting presence of one of our caseworkers or volunteers. Welcoming office space is also important."

IRIS is planning to move to a new, larger location, with help from a grant by The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven. The new building will provide greater space for group activities and includes private meeting rooms, which, as George explained, "Are essential when serving those who have experienced trauma and are anxious about what the future holds."

The Community Foundation also recently awarded IRIS a multi-year, general operating support grant to help the nonprofit fulfill its mission and offer refugees and displaced individuals the education and foundational tools that will help them become vibrant members of the Greater New Haven community.

Paulina and her son Gustave. Photo courtesy of IRIS.

Tito, his wife Paulina, and their young son Gustave, are only one example of IRIS's important work. Just two months after arriving in the United States, Tito had already started working. The family was then able to begin the complicated process of reuniting with Paulina's three older children, who she painfully had to leave behind.

It is hard to imagine a life of constant fear and worry, one where your personal safety and livelihood is continually threatened. Yet, that is what life is like for many refugees. The staff and volunteers of IRIS work to allay such fears and foster the joy and peace that all people deserve. Their work is greatly appreciated in New Haven, as evidenced by the organization's recent selection as a "Best Local Charity" in the Best of New Haven Readers' Poll for 2015.

For more information or to support IRIS, please visit their® page.

Did You Know?

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), "A refugee is someone who has fled from his or her home country and cannot return because he or she has a well-founded fear of persecution based on religion, race, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group." The latest data available indicates that there are 15.4 million refugees around the world.

Source: "Refugee Admissions," US Department of State: Diplomacy in Action