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Let’s Learn About: Refugees

We are reflecting this month on Independence Day and the freedom that has attracted people to the United States. At World Relief Memphis, we often reflect on America as a country of immigrants and displaced persons. Throughout the generations, people have immigrated to the U.S. and established new lives. That continues today!

Refugees are just one of these immigrant groups.

The amount of competing information around immigration can be overwhelming. But World Relief has been welcoming refugees and other immigrants in partnership with churches and compassionate individuals like you since the 1970s, and for over 10 years here in Memphis!

World Relief Memphis specifically assists those who are seeking safety through various pathways established by the United States Government. In this five-part series, with help from our Initial Welcoming Services and Newcomer Outreach Service teams, we will be sharing the various different legal pathways to the U.S., how those pathways began, how we come alongside new arrivals, and how you can join us in welcome.


Refugees are one of the primary groups of people World Relief serves worldwide. To understand who they are and our role in the refugee resettlement process, lets take a look at World Relief’s history alongside legislation in the United States.


1944 – The War Relief Commission of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) is founded in NYC for churches to address urgent humanitarian needs in war-torn Europe.

1948 – U.S. Congress enacts the “Displaced Persons Act of 1948” following the admission of more than 250,000 displaced Europeans from World War II (State Dept.).


1950 – The War Relief Commission changes its name to World Relief Commission of the NAE

1950 – The United Nations establishes the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), also known as the UN Refugee Agency to “act as guardian of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which defines the legal protections for refugees” (USCIS).

1951 – The International Organization for Migration (IOM) was created. Originally called, “Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration,” as they were birthed from the migration crisis following WWII, IOM serves refugees in a similar capacity to the UNHCR (IOM).


1972 – World Relief cares for 100,000 war-displaced people in Vietnam through it’s network of missionaries and church partners

1975 – World Relief provides food and medical care in Cambodia for refugees fleeing the Khmer Rouge genocide.

1979 – World Relief launches its refugee resettlement ministry through a network of church partners, helping Vietnamese boat people adjust to life in America. World Relief is the only evangelical agency authorized by the US State Department to resettle refugees.


1980 – Congress passes the Refugee Act – “standardized federally-supported resettlement services for all refugees admitted to the United States” (State Dept.). The Act included the definition of refugee and gave instruction for “regular and emergency admission of refugees of all nationalities” (USCIS). It “provided the legal basis for the establishment of The Office of Refugee Resettlement at the Department of Health and Human Services.” This Act is establishes the annual Presidential Determination, setting the annual number of refugee admissions.


2005 – The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is created as a part of the Department of Homeland Security and “oversees refugee and asylum affairs” (USCIS). Their officers are “specifically-trained refugee officers who travel around the world to interview refugee applicants seeking resettlement in the United States.”

2012 – World Relief opens offices in Memphis to work with area churches and community partners to create a community of love and welcome for refugees.

*Want a more in-depth history of World Relief, immigration laws, and the resettlement process? Take our free workshop course here

The U.S. Refugee Resettlement Process

With that history, consider resettlement from the milestone of receiving official refugee status to arrival in the U.S.

What We Do

Once a refugee is approved by the State Department, they are matched with a resettlement agency. World Relief Memphis is notified of a pending case through our Home Office and accepts the case.

In the days or weeks between this notification and the refugee’s arrival, our Initial Welcoming Services (IWS) team gets to work. A caseworker is assigned and is given access to the case specifics, including a general background of who is coming and if they have specific needs to be considered.

Simultaneously, our Church and Community Engagement staff is recruiting a volunteer Good Neighbor Team of 8-10 individuals to match with the new arrivals.

The caseworker then collaborates with our housing manager to find an apartment or rental house and with the volunteers, sets up the space with required necessities, sourced from donations or by purchasing through a portion of the incoming case’s Refugee Cash Assistance.

Arrival day is exciting! The Good Neighbor Team and IWS staff gather at the airport to provide a warm welcome and to celebrate this milestone. But over the next three months, there are many integration steps that individual or family must overcome. Our caseworkers aid their program participants in registering for their Refugee Cash Assistance, Social Security Card, Medicare, SNAP, and other elible government assistance programs. These programs are key for helping refugees in becoming self-sufficient.

Other vital steps in these first 90 days are the cultural orientation to the U.S., budget meetings reviewing travel debt, the currency system, and how to pay rent/ bills. The volunteer Good Neighbor Team is reinforcing these same principles as they go grocery shopping with a family, support budget planning, or help them practice talking with their landlord.

Once the initial 90 day period nears an end, clients may be matched with other volunteers and enrolled in eligible programs for extended case management:

  • Holistic Support Services: aids clients in health and wellness goals, especially clients with additional vulnerabilities
  • Refugee and Immigrant Youth Services: provides school enrollment services, group mentoring, and one-on-one mentoring where refugee and immigrant youth learn how to set and meet goals in their personal, school, and post-school life.
  • The Connect Language Center: English as a Second Language (ESL) program open to program participants and the general public. Here students are enrolled in ESL classes of varying levels depending on starting knowledge.

How You can Help

The resettlement process is not a simple one, and it certainly doesn’t end at arrival. While we might be tempted to look away, the love of Christ compels us to turn toward the need — to consistently and lovingly step toward those who are hurting. If you’re like us, you’re asking yourself: How can I make a difference and create lasting change when the problems in the world are so big?  

The good news is none of us has to take this journey alone. World Relief Memphis has been present and working in this city for the past 10 years and is equipped with 80 years of connections and expertise through the World Relief’s global network. We have been partnering with you, the local church and community to make Memphis a more welcoming community.

Here are 4 ways you can be a part of lasting change:

  • Learn: There is always something to learn in the refugee resettlement world as we just displayed. World Relief Memphis has a Workshop with courses to learn more about cross-culture friendships with our newest neighbors, reflections on biblical thoughts about immigration, and more!

  • Advocate: The immigration system is broken and you have a voice to change it for the better! Check out our Advocate page to see how you can share your voice on issues like passing the Afghan Adjustment Act, creating a just path to citizenship for Dreamers and other long-term immigrants, protections for Ukrainians, Asylum seekers, and more.

  • Volunteer: Want to walk alongside individuals and families here in Memphis? Check out our volunteer page to see what opportunity is right for you. You can do everything from apartment set ups, driving clients to ESL classes, mentoring refugee and immigrant youth, to bring in a Good Neighbor Team where you get to welcome and walk alongside a refugee family for the first 6 months of their time in the U.S.

  • Give: When you give to World Relief Memphis, whether it be once or monthly, monetarily or gift in kind, you are making a big difference in the lives refugees and other immigrants in vulnerable situations.

Writer: Kara Spencer

Communication Coordinator at World Relief Memphis, graduate of Harding University and Memphis native.

If you would like to learn more about World Relief Memphis in the coming months, follow us on social media and sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date on events and volunteer opportunities.

If you are searching for an opportunity to begin making a bigger impact, join our new monthly giving program, The Path, for exclusive updates, virtual events, prayer chains, and stories of hope from the women, men, and children whose lives you change.

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