I came to the United States as a refugee when I was 11 years old. My father was a diplomat and a strong supporter of democracy in Czechoslovakia, so when the Communists took over, we were forced into exile as refugees. In November 1948, we were welcomed to the United States of America.
Becoming a U.S. citizen is the most important thing that ever happened to me. My father said that when we were in Europe during WWII people would say, “We are sorry for your troubles and hope that you have everything you need; by the way, when will you be leaving to go back home?”
But in America, people said: “We are sorry for your troubles and hope that you have everything you need; by the way, when will you become a citizen?”
America resettles more refugees than any other nation because it reflects one of our noblest traditions as a nation: providing support to those who are most vulnerable.
With the world facing the largest mass displacement on record since World War II, it has never been more important for world leaders to follow America’s example and work together to do more to support refugees.
Today, President Obama is hosting a Refugee Summit meeting to encourage more world leaders to step up and make new commitments to support the critical work of resettling refugees and helping them rebuild their lives. You can watch the President’s speech here at 3:35 PM Eastern.
Under President Obama, we’ve increased the number of refugees resettling this year to 85,000 – including 10,000 Syrian refugees. Starting next week, the United States will commit to resettling 110,000 refugees from around the world over the coming year.
And with refugees undergoing the most rigorous screening of any kind of traveler, he’s shown that we can welcome refugees while ensuring our own safety.
As a former Secretary of State, I can tell you that President Obama’s leadership in this global crisis is critical to our national security.
When countries with insufficient resources take in refugees, it creates more instability, not just at the frontlines of this crisis, but around the world. If we were to slam the door in the faces of refugees with certain religious backgrounds, we would defy our history and our principles of pluralism and diversity. As we talk to other nations about what more needs to be done to tackle this crisis, it’s important that President Obama is setting this example.
When I came here as a child, I will never forget sailing into New York Harbor for the first time and beholding the Statute of Liberty. I did not have to face refugee camps or the kind of danger that many refugees endure. But like all refugees, I shared a hope to live a safe life with dignity and a chance to give back to my new country.