Way Back When … 1918
One hundred years ago, in 1918, the Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants was founded to help new Americans in their journey to finding a home in Fairfield County. Next month, on Feb. 8, the Fairfield Museum & History Center will open a new exhibition, “An American Story: Finding Home in Fairfield County,” which honors the 100th anniversary of CIRI, highlights the history of immigration and refugees in Fairfield County and features portraits of local immigrants and refugees who share how they have rebuilt their lives here.
CIRI is a statewide nonprofit organization that assists refugees and immigrants resolve legal, economic, linguistic and social barriers so they become self-sufficient, integrated, and contributing members of the community. CIRI achieves this mission through legal, social and educational programming and by promoting cross cultural understanding and decent treatment for all. Each year, CIRI assists close to 5,000 individuals from its offices in Bridgeport, Stamford and Hartford, providing transformative services for refugees, immigrants, survivors of torture, and survivors of human trafficking.
Here is a brief timeline of the organization. CIRI began in 1918, when the YWCA established the International Institute of Connecticut in Bridgeport to provide services to new immigrants, including social and legal aid, English classes, and programs celebrating immigrant cultures. In 1935 the International Institute of Connecticut became an independent organization. In the 1940s and 1950s IICONN resettled Italian, Hungarian, and other Eastern European immigrants and refugees in the Bridgeport area following World War II, provided legal assistance, social services, language instruction and cross-cultural education. In 1975, following the Vietnam War, IICONN mobilized the community to assist thousands of Southeast Asian immigrants seeking political asylum in the United States. In 1980, with new federal policies addressing the needs of refugees and immigrants, IICONN emerged as the premier nonprofit provider of immigration and refugee services in the state. In the 1990s the organization helped thousands of refugees from Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia and Kosovo fleeing the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. In 2006 it launched Project Rescue at the urging of the U.S. Attorney’s Office to provide critical services to survivors of human trafficking in Connecticut. And last year, IICONN launched its new name, celebrating a century of service empowering immigrants, refugees and survivors of human trafficking and torture to thrive in Connecticut.
The topic of the exhibition, “An American Story: Finding Home in Fairfield,” is timely, as the world is living in the midst of the worst refugee crisis since the end of World War II. According to the United Nations’ high commissioner for refugees, there are 22.5 million refugees in the world today. More than half of all refugees worldwide come from just three countries: Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan. More than half the population of Syria is displaced by the country’s ongoing conflict.
There is also significant flight from Somalia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, Myanma, and Eritrea. Refugees resettling in Connecticut come from many countries. Over half are from Myanmar (Burma), Iraq, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia.
“An American Story: Finding Home in Fairfield County” runs from Feb. 8 through July 23, and begins with an opening reception on Feb. 8 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Fairfield Museum, 370 Beach Road. It will feature remarks by Fairfield resident and political consultant and international development activist Jack Leslie on the state of immigration and refugees in the U.S., plus wine and international hors d’oeuvres.
The year the Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants was founded to help new Americans in their journey to finding a home in Fairfield County.
The Fairfield Museum & History Center and Museum Shop, at 370 Beach Road, is open seven days a week, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Members of the museum and children under 5 are admitted free. For information, call 203-259-1598 or visit Fairfieldhistory.org.