International Rescue Committee & Life in the Bay, making a difference together!

The International Rescue Committee hosted a talk at the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California, on 15 February. I attended, as part of our initiative to connect the various immigrant groups living in the Bay Area. If you remember from our article last week, it is the International Rescue Committee which is working with the Muslim Community Center – East Bay, to support Khalid and his family, read more here.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC), led by David Miliband, former Foreign Secretary for the United Kingdom, provides humanitarian assistance and refugee resettlement in more than 40 countries across the globe. In Northern California alone they run four offices, in Oakland, San Jose, Sacramento and Turlock.

Here is what I learned at the International Rescue Committee Talk

Who is considered a refugee?

‘an individual seeking refuge or asylum; especially: an individual who has left his or her native country and is unwilling or unable to return to it because of persecution or fear of persecution (as because of race, religion, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion)’ according to merriam-webster dictionary  

photo Credit: International Rescue Committee #RefugeesWelcome

photo Credit: International Rescue Committee #RefugeesWelcome

Refugee facts and figures:

  • There are 21.5 million refugees worldwide at any time.
  • Only 30% of refugees are located in camps. 60% are ‘out of status’ living in unknown conditions
  • ½ of all refugees are children
  • 54% of all refugees come from Syria/Afghanistan/Somalia
  • Refugees spend an average of 17 years living in camps, facing uncertainty



How many refugees were resettled in the US last year? Who determines this number and how do the recent Executive Order’s effect this?

From Oct 2015-Oct 2016 the United States resettled 84,995 refugees.

Each year, the president of the United States sets a cap on the number of refugees that will be taken in. Since September 11th, 2001, the cap has ranged from 50k to 85k, steadily rising. In October 2016, Obama raised the cap from 85k to 110k, however, when Trump took office, he set the cap at only 50k. Even though the first EO, which affects immigration of refugees from Syria and other countries has been dismissed, this 50k cap on refugees still stands. The effects of the most recent EO, signed 6 March, are still to be determined. This means that 50k + refugees who were currently undergoing vetting and evaluation within 21 government agencies for resettlement in the US, will need to be placed elsewhere, or continue living in their unstable environments.

Did you know that resettlement in the US is not a refugee’s first choice?

Nope, most refugees would actually like to return to their home country, once it is safe to do so. If that is not possible, then resettlement in a nearby country is the second choice (which allows them to maintain contact with family and friends from back home). Their third, and often last choice for survival is resettlement.

Want to learn more?

How can you help?

The IRC offices in Oakland, San Jose, Sacramento and Turlock (Northern California) offer many opportunities to assist with refugee resettlement. Whether you have time to act as a professional mentor, or even just help with a trip to the grocery store. You can make a difference…and of course, financial donations are always accepted. Remember how empowering a simple gift card could be to a refugee family?

Volunteers needed:

From summer internships, for students to administration and finance support, the IRC can put your skills to work, and also teach you a few valuable lessons along the way. If you have 4-6 hours of spare time in your week, consider getting involved. For more information, attend an upcoming information session, or contact

Top 5 ‘donations in kind’ needed by your local IRC:Picture of various donations for the International Rescue Committee

  1. Computers (not more than 4 years old)
  2. Bikes
  3. Pressure cookers/rice cookers
  4. Irons
  5. Gift cards (gift cards = empowerment)

Choice = Empowerment. Imagine living in a state of uncertainty and poverty for countless years. You are given things, handouts, hand-me-downs, humanitarian aid. You don’t get to choose anything you own. You survive because of this generosity, but to finally be able to choose your own items, to pick out a sweater in your favorite color, or a special book, the luxury of choice, is really is a luxury to these families.


How is Life in the Bay making a difference?

Browse our store on Threadless here:

In 2017, our mission is to build bridges and create community between ALL of the immigrants groups here in the San Francisco Bay Area.  We have recently teamed up with the IRC to raise funds, which be specifically directed to enhance refugee resettlement programs here in the Bay Area.  We are proud to announce our new ‘Love Lives Here’ campaign.

Thanks to the inspiring sign created by Patti Arnold in Southern California. We have created hoodies, t-shirts and more to spread the message that ‘All colors, all orientations, all religions, all cultures, and all abilities, are welcome here in the Bay Area. Love lives here!

On 1 July we hosted an event to build and paint #loveliveshere signs. Together, we made 20 signs, (which have now all been sold) raising $500 for the IRC and $500 for GiveLight. We are arranging a second sign buiding day soon. Please join our Life in the Bay Community page to learn more about all of our events.

Support the IRC – Northern California offices, and spread the love. 50% of the proceeds from this campaign will be donated directly to the IRC. OR – If you would like to make a financial contribution directly to the IRC – Northern California, you can donate here.

Browse our store on Threadless here:

Browse our store on Threadless here:

About Michelle Laker

A California native; I spent 10 years living, studying, working, (and falling in love) in the United Kingdom. I returned to the Bay Area in 2011, with my British husband in tow. I am re-adjusting to life in the bay, feeling more like an expat than a local. I have spent my career working with international student & families. I love learning about other cultures, languages, and traditions. My desire to welcome newcomers, and help you make the most of your new life in the Bay Area comes from the unforgettable memories (and mistakes) I made during my time in the United Kingdom. If you've just arrived, and don't know where to start, email me ( I am happy to help!

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