Church World Service Celebrates 65th Anniversary

“You have reached 65 years, but please don’t retire!” With those words, Vincent Cochetel, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees regional representative for the United States and the Caribbean, joined those wishing Church World Service a fond birthday as the global humanitarian agency marked its 65th anniversary and its long service and dedication to refugee protection.

The Church World Service logo represents 65 years of work around the world for people in need, work done on behalf of and with the cooperation of member denominations like the Church of the Brethren.

Cochetel’s wishes were not merely professional – the UNHCR official told those attending a Thursday, July 21, celebration of the agency at the Museum of the City of New York that among those resettled by CWS during its early years was a relative of his wife’s family fleeing persecution from the Soviet Union.

Such stories were common during the event, which also marked the 60th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

In his remarks, the Rev. John McCullough, CWS executive director and CEO, said the experiences of immigrants and refugees reflect an underlying philosophy of CWS — that partnership and working at solutions begins at the grassroots.

Erol Kekic, the director of CWS’s Immigration and Refugee Program, noted that when Church World Service was formed in 1946, and when “food trains were organized to assist the victims of hunger caused by the Second World War, few imagined an agency functioning 65 years later with an annual operating budget of over 80 million dollars and staff of several hundred.”

He added: “Much has changed since that time. CWS is today a global voluntary agency well equipped to respond to natural and human induced disasters, offer refugee assistance and work to alleviate hunger domestically and abroad. Since 1946, CWS has helped resettle 500,000 refugees into the US and changed countless lives abroad.”

As one example of change and looking toward the future, McCullough announced that the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) has asked CWS to conduct a new international study focused on protection of the world’s growing numbers of urban refugees.

The yearlong study aims to identify successful, replicable models in “host communities” in the U.S. and other countries that are helping refugees integrate more quickly and successfully into urban settings and new cultures.

–- Chris Herlinger of CWS provided this report.