This week, B.C. & Mordant welcome Melanie Nezer, the Vice President of Policy and Advocacy for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS). In her role, she is helping the cause of refugee resettlement in major ways.
HIAS is the oldest refugee and immigration organization in the world and has been on the forefronts of the cause for over 135 years. The organization started in a storefront in Manhattan, providing comfort and aid to Jews fleeing persecution. About 20 years ago, it made a shift to focus on welcoming refugees from anywhere in the world.
“Our values and our faith really compel us to do this,” Melanie says. “We have programs all over the world in Africa and Latin America, helping refugees who have fled to neighboring countries.” Melanie shares the dire need for this sort of work. Currently there are 60 million displaced people worldwide — the largest number since World War II.
One of only 9 organizations currently helping settle refugees in the U.S., HIAS assists with delivering legal documentation, access to work, and psychosocial counseling.
In this episode, Melanie addresses the recent negative rhetoric surrounding the refugee crisis. “The rhetoric around refugees in our country and in Europe is very disheartening, but nothing new,” she says, sharing some surprising facts about how the United States accepted refugees after World War II. Public opinion polls showed that 64% of American people did not want to admit Jews from Germany and other places because of fears that they would change the culture and fears that they would be a threat. “Things that are certainly being echoed today,” she says.
Today, organizations like HIAS have their work cut out for them. “What’s disheartening is since Paris, there’s been a politicization of the refugee issue, which we never saw before,” Melanie says. “It’s always been a very strongly bipartisan issue with the support of many members of Congress and the American people. I think we still have that well of support, but there are a few voices that are really making this an issue, equating refugees with terrorists, which is really unfortunate because these are people fleeing persecution and really need our help.”
Despite the challenging political climate, Melanie also shares stories of hope. Stories of cultures coming together, bonding over their shared humanity.
“We have received tens of thousands of calls from Americans who want to help. We have a unique roll to play. Why shouldn’t we help if we can help? It’s who we are,” she says.
Tune in to hear about Melanie’s important work, and learn how you can help by being an advocate for the cause.
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“What a Relief!” is the official podcast of Islamic Relief USA. Co-hosted by social media specialist B.C. Dodge & Mordant Mahon, IRUSA’s “What a Relief!” puts a human face on what’s going on in the world and how you can enact positive change in it. New episodes every week!
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