History

 

IRIS is a non-sectarian, independent nonprofit refugee resettlement agency that has welcomed more than 5,000 refugees to Connecticut since its founding in 1982.


Founded in 1982, IRIS has undergone dramatic growth and transformation over the past 34 years, but its goal has remained constant: to provide a new haven to refugees and other immigrants from around the world. Throughout its history, IRIS has helped refugees from all over the world, but the numbers and nationalities of clients have fluctuated. Vietnamese and other Southeast Asians arrived in the 1980s and early 90s, former Yugoslavians (Bosnians, Croatians, and Serbians) in the 1990s, Cuban rafters in 1995, Kurds in 1996, Kosovar Albanians in 1998, Sudanese “Lost Boys” in 2001, Liberians in 2004, Afghans and Iraqis began to arrive in 2007 and in 2015, IRIS began to receive Syrian families, seeking refuge from one of the biggest humanitarian crises in history.

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In 1982, the Episcopal Diocese of 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 welcome and 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 the Interfaith Refugee Ministry (IRM).

1990’s: IRM resettles the 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 the Cuban rafters who arrive in Connecticut.

1996: IRM resettles the Kurdish families who arrive in Connecticut.

1998: Kosovar Albanians flee from the conflict in Kosovo, and IRM resettles the Kosovar families who arrive in Connecticut.

2001: IRM resettles the 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 the 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 the Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS).

2011: For the foreseeable future, the Syrian Civil war displaces many civilians.

2014: For the foreseeable future, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) rises to power and displaces many Iraqi and Syrian civilians. IRIS officially disassociates itself with the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut, though relations still remain friendly and supportive.

2015: IRIS begins resettling the Syrian families who arrive in Connecticut.