Founded in 2015
International Neighbors was founded in 2015 by Kari Anderson Miller, a local educator for 17 years. During that time, she gained valuable insight into the lives of refugee students and their families, who had been resettled to Charlottesville from 31 countries. Having been a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand, Kari could empathize with the challenges of learning to speak, read and write a foreign language while acquiring skills necessary to navigate a new society. While some of the refugee and SIV neighbors were achieving success, many were struggling in their new land- even choosing suicide, or returning to the dangers of their homeland. As the international neighbor population of Charlottesville grew to 6%- and knowledge about their existence remained minimal amongst locals- Ms. Miller launched International Neighbors in an effort to expose the challenges endured by “silent citizens” of our town, as well as to unveil the multitude of ways in which our community is exemplary because of them.
What is a Refugee?
According to the 1951 Geneva Convention, a refugee is a person who has fled his country “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.” He or she cannot or will not return because her government cannot or will not protect her. The United Nations works in conjunction with national governments to find recipient nations for these individuals. The United States accepts thousands of refugees every year from around the world. Refugees are invited guests of the United States; they are legal residents and enjoy all privileges of their status.
For more information about refugees, please visit these helpful links!
The “Special Immigrant Visa” program is a State Department Program that provides permanent US residency for Afghans and Iraqis (and their immediate family members) who provided critical support to US efforts during the recent wars. Immigrants who arrive under this program are typically called “SIVs.” These brave Iraqi and Afghans often face danger and persecution in their home countries for having helped the US. The have faced a very difficult vetting process in gaining their approval to come to the US, but many face subtle (and sometimes overt) racism here in their new homeland. Many of the men (and some women) in these families are highly educated and most speak English relatively well.
Retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Tim Leroux, IN’s Senior Director of SIV Programs says:
I could have died on November 30th, 2003. Instead, I was able to safely return to my family because my Iraqi interpreter, Mr. Abbas, alerted me to a well-placed enemy ambush – his actions undoubtedly prevented significant loss of life. My experience is not unique. Almost every veteran will tell you that our Afghan and Iraqi allies served with exceptional bravery at great risk to themselves and their families. They saved thousands of American lives, were instrumental to whatever successes we had during the wars, and should be treated as heroes. Shamefully, our nation is failing to adequately repay our debt to these brave friends and their families.
Despite promises made to local interpreters supporting our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, only a fraction have made it to the US. The vast majority have been left behind to fend for themselves. There are over 70 former Iraqi and Afghan interpreters (most with families) living in the Charlottesville area who have been lucky enough to immigrate to the US under the SIV program. Although they are fortunate and thankful to be here, most find themselves stuck in poverty and struggling to pursue their American Dream.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Founder & Executive Director
BOARD OF ADVISORS:
Ahmed “A.J.” Mikhlif
SIV Program Manager- Iraq
SIV Program Manager- Afghanistan
Col Tim Leroux
Emeritus Board member
Honorary Board member