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 more valuable 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 should be able to enjoy all privileges of their status.
For more information about refugees, please visit these helpful links:
The U.S. State Department’s “Special Immigrant Visa” program is designed for the brave men (and some women) who provided critical support to U.S. military forces during the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Immigrants who arrive under this program are referred to as “SIVs,” and they (like refugees) must endure a lengthy and thorough vetting process prior to entry in the United States. Because of their commitment to the U.S. in Afghanistan/Iraq war zones, SIV neighbors and their families are not safe in their native country. Though deserving of the same honor and respect bestowed upon U.S. soldiers, SIVs are often the recipients of overt racism and harassment in Charlottesville.
Retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Tim Leroux 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 them by the United States, only a small percentage of SIVs have been granted entry to the land they fought to protect. There are over 200 of these brave Afghan and Iraqi natives who live as our neighbors in Charlottesville, VA. Though grateful and fortunate to be here, most find themselves living in poverty and struggling to pursue their American Dream.
For more information about SIVs, please visit these helpful links:
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Founder & Executive Director
BOARD OF ADVISORS:
Ahmed “A.J.” Mikhlif
SIV Program Manager- Iraq
SIV Program Manager- Afghanistan