In 2001, I was forced to leave my home in the Central African Republic because of persecution and the civil unrest in the country. My family was being threatened and life was becoming more dangerous every day. I fled to Egypt, where I sought refuge.

In 2018, 17 years after I left home, I was finally approved for resettlement in the United States. I’m forever grateful to the U.S. Refugee Resettlement program and Greensboro for giving me a second chance.

When I arrived in August 2018, I received a warm welcome from the people of North Carolina. I was so happy to see so much greenery and know that I was now safe and would finally start a new life.

Greensboro immediately felt like the right place to start my new life. The people are so friendly that they smile at you at every turn, and even hold the door for you. They call it “Southern Hospitality.” It has been wonderful to see that the hospitality extends to someone like me. For that I am forever grateful.

On today, World Refugee Day — a day when we celebrate the contributions of refugees — I’m inspired by ways that Americans are choosing to support families like mine. We did not choose to become refugees, but these Americans have chosen to welcome us.

Just this week, more than 13,000 ordinary Americans are taking the Ration Challenge in solidarity with refugees like me. They are eating only refugee rations — just a small amount of rice, flour, beans, fish and oil — to raise money and awareness to support refugee families around the world.

I am moved by their compassion and desire to do something to make a difference for families who may never get the home they deserve. I know how long refugees wait for resettlement, and that getting to rebuild your life is like winning the lottery. Less than 1% of refugees who need to be resettled will get that chance.

This compassion and generosity for refugees, unfortunately, is not reflected in our government’s policies. The U.S. has lost its place as the global leader in addressing the global displacement crisis. The refugee resettlement program that saved my life and countless others has been cut by 75% during the last two years. At the same time, refugees who arrive at the border to seek safety are being subjected to further trauma and finding their chances of protection increasingly slim.

America’s beacon of hope is fading and may soon disappear. These policies are negatively affecting refugee lives, as the U.S. is no longer a human rights leader nor a conduit for their voices.

America is better than this. I know from experience.

North Carolinians are empathetic and gave me a new life. I remember the day I arrived in the U.S., and members of Church World Service received me at the airport. I recall asking a lot of questions regarding the city and people. CWS was a wonderful resource for me as they connected me other communities.

Since arriving here, I’ve decided to give back and help other newcomers like me. I’m now an interpreter with CWS and work with the Center for New North Carolinians as a community health worker, where I help vulnerable people access health care.

When communities welcome refugees like me, it grows in us a strong sense of responsibility to do what we can to make our communities better for everyone. Former refugees all around the country are stepping up in their communities, volunteering, running for office and starting businesses. They are at once ordinary and inspiring, the kind of citizens this country needs.

This World Refugee Day, as we celebrate refugees in our community of Greensboro, we must demand that our elected leaders do the same. Congress must rebuild the refugee resettlement program and protect the right to seek asylum. We must urge them to restore policies that reflect our values and honor our promises to the thousands of refugee families who are looking for a safe place to call home.

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Abdoul Raouf Ousmane is an interpreter for Church World Service. Leonard Pitts is on vacation.

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