HIAS Remembers the Late Rosalynn Carter and Her Work for Refugees

SILVER SPRING, Md. — HIAS mourns the death of Rosalynn Carter and praises the former First Lady for her work on behalf of refugees.

“After she heard a briefing about the plight of Cambodian refugees who had fled to Thailand in 1979, Rosalynn Carter made the decision independently to visit refugee camps where 30,000 people were enduring hunger, disease, and continuing threats of violence,” said HIAS President and CEO Mark Hetfield. “The First Lady said it was like nothing she had ever seen. In addition to bearing witness and providing comfort and encouragement to the refugees she met, Rosalynn Carter worked to assemble an international delegation to address the crisis. Her work stood alongside that of her husband President Jimmy Carter, a champion for refugees who would go on the next year to sign the Refugee Act of 1980, which for the first time codified the right to seek and enjoy asylum in the United States.”

Former Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman, sponsor of the Refugee Act of 1980, said, “As part of a delegation of U.S. Congresswomen on a humanitarian mission to help tens of thousands of starving refugees, including many children, on the Cambodian-Thai border, I was astonished to find First Lady Rosalynn Carter in Thailand checking on the same problem firsthand. No First Lady had done anything like that since Eleanor Roosevelt. The First Lady was obviously as moved and troubled as we were by the pictures of starving children that had appeared in U.S. news reports. But she was not only caring and compassionate, she tried to remedy the problems she saw. Unfailingly gracious and a strong supporter of women’s rights, she was a wonderful role model then and will be for generations to come. I extend my deepest condolences to President Carter on this monumental loss.”

Hetfield added, “All of us at HIAS would like to express our deepest condolences to President Carter for this tremendous loss, as we also express our gratitude for First Lady Rosalynn Carter’s compassion and action — particularly when it came to issues of displacement. May her memory be a blessing.”

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