IRIS is a non-sectarian, independent nonprofit refugee resettlement agency that has welcomed more than 5,000 refugees to Connecticut since 1982.
Founded in 1982, IRIS has undergone dramatic growth and transformation over the past 35 years, but its goal has remained constant: to provide a new haven to refugees and other immigrants. Throughout its history, IRIS has helped refugees from all over the world, but the numbers and nationalities of clients have fluctuated, as shown in the timeline below.
In 1982, the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut (now the Episcopal Church in Connecticut) created the Diocesan Refugee Services Committee. Its charge was to explore whether Connecticut parishes might be interested in welcoming and resettling Southeast Asians fleeing communist regimes that rose from the ashes of the Vietnam conflict. There was indeed interest, and the first refugee family arrived December 21, 1982. During its first year of operation the refugee program was staffed by a single individual whose primary task was to find churches willing to resettle newly arriving refugee families. The Diocesan Refugee Services Committee changed names twice before becoming Interfaith Refugee Ministry (IRM) in 1990, and moved from Cheshire to Bridgeport to Ansonia before making New Haven its home in 1995. IRM moved from Wooster Square to its current location in the East Rock neighborhood in June 2006, and officially changed its name to IRIS- Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services in summer 2007. This name change reflected IRIS’s growth and the decision to extend some services to address the critical needs of immigrants. The iris flower, which thrives all over the world, is a symbol of hope and faith.
Below is a timeline of IRIS’s history, including the world events that caused refugees to seek new lives in the United States.
1975: The Vietnam War ends. Southeast Asian families flee communist regimes that rise from the ashes of the conflict.
1982: The Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut forms the Diocesan Refugee Services Committee and resettles Vietnamese and Southeast Asian refugee families for the following decade.
1983: For the following two decades, the Second Sudanese Civil War displaces and orphans over 20,000 Sudanese boys, who later become known as the “Lost Boys of Sudan”.
1990: In the following years, Yugoslavia breaks into multiple countries through a series of violent conflicts. The Diocesan Refugee Services Committee becomes Interfaith Refugee Ministry (IRM).
1990s: IRM resettles Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian, and other former Yugoslavian families who arrive in Connecticut.
1994: In the following years, the Iraqi Kurdish Civil War displaces many Kurdish civilians.
1995: IRM resettles Cuban rafters who arrive in Connecticut.
1996: IRM resettles Kurdish families who arrive in Connecticut.
1998: Kosovar Albanians flee from the conflict in Kosovo, and IRM resettles Kosovar families who arrive in Connecticut.
2001: IRM resettles Lost Boys of Sudan who arrive in Connecticut. In the following years, the United States invades Afghanistan and battles the Afghanistan government and the Taliban, displacing many civilians.
2003: The Liberian capital of Monrovia is sieged during war, displacing thousands of civilians.
2004: IRM resettles Liberian families who arrive in Connecticut. In the following years, insurgency and civil conflicts caused by the United States’ invasion of Iraq displaces many civilians.
2007: IRM begins resettling the Afghan and Iraqi families who arrive in Connecticut. IRM officially changes its name to IRIS- Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services.
2011: The Syrian Civil war begins to displace many civilians.
2014: The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) rises to power and displaces many Iraqi and Syrian civilians. After over 30 years as a program of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, IRIS takes steps to become an independent organization, with their continued support of our mission.
2015: IRIS begins resettling Syrian families who arrive in Connecticut.
2016: In response to the Syrian refugee crisis, and with tremendous community support, IRIS welcomes 530 refugees—more than double any previous year. One-third of these families are resettled by community groups in towns and cities across the state, through IRIS’s expanded community co-sponsorship program.