Smita Sarkar

Outreach Director, New Arrivals Institute

Meet Smita Sarkar

Outreach Director, New Arrivals Institute, Education & Community Outreach Coordinator, FaithAction International Fellow – UNCG’s Centre for New North Carolinians, Ambassador – Greensboro Human Rights’ “International Advisory Committee” and Founder-Editor –

Smita Sarkar has devoted much of her life to helping refugees, inspired largely by her father’s own refugee experience as a Bangladeshi in India. His stories instilled in her a compassion and desire to help other refugees.

Born and raised in India, Sarkar, has devoted much of her career to helping refugees wherever she has lived — in India, the U.K. and in Greensboro.

Through her role as the outreach director for the New Arrivals Institute in Greensboro, she is involved in outreach, education, training, research and bridge-building. She has also become a friend and cheerleader for many local refugees and immigrants.

World Refugee Day (WRD), on June 20, honors people who have been forced to flee their homelands because of conflict or persecution. In Greensboro, there will be a celebration between 11. a.m.-3 p.m., Saturday, June 17 at Hester Park. All are welcome and there is no admission fee.

Festivities include a naturalization ceremony for refugees who recently became U.S. citizens. There will be multicultural performances, refugee recognition, food trucks, a resource fair, activities for kids and the installation of the new International Advisory Committee’s leadership team.

The refugee soccer team will also try to defend their title as reigning champions in the much-anticipated soccer game against Greensboro city staffers.

Read more below about how Sarkar’s refugee work shapes her life.


What are you doing now and how did you end up working with refugees?

I’m really fortunate to be able to juggle multiple projects on immigrants and refugees, research, journalism and mentoring. I am also gradually preparing myself to serve in international advisory committee roles. There are never enough hours in the day!!

What are your main roles with refugees?
I serve in four ways. First, I am the Outreach Director for New Arrivals Institute. Leilani Roughton, our Executive Director, has a strong mission of assisting refugees and immigrants achieve self-sufficiency through U.S. citizenship and education. I’m helping with NAI’s new expansion into the Western N.C. counties of Watauga, Wilkes, Ashe and Yadkin, that the N.C. state refugee office has entrusted us with, along with l several projects from the Greensboro office.

Secondly, I’m helping FaithAction International during a key transition period, as their Education and Community Outreach Coordinator. FaithAction serves and advocates alongside thousands of newcomers each year, while educating and connecting diverse communities across lines of culture and faith.

I am also a Fellow for UNCG’s Center for New North Carolinians (CNNC) Research Fellowship program that conducts research and evaluation studies to educate the general public, track demographic trends and enhance the quality-of-service provision. I’m a part of their 2023-2025 cohort.

Finally, I am a member of the Greensboro Human Rights’ International Advisory Committee. This month, I start my tenure for 2023-2025 as the liaison for the Transgender Task Force, Commission for status of women, and the Sudanese, Afghan and Indian communities. The vision of the IAC is to create a more inclusive Greensboro for members of the international community. The mission is to ensure the voices of the international community is heard, share success stories and present the concerns to the Human Rights Commission and the City Council.

Has your career always been focused on refugee advocacy and support?

I lived and worked in different countries across the world (India, Singapore, Hong Kong, London), and understand and love working with different diasporas and people. I also grew up in a Senior policeman’s house, and have a keen interest in working with the Greensboro Police Department’s Community Engagement initiatives.

I have, however, been trained to be a journalist and documentary filmmaker, and been a broadcaster and print/digital journalist for the majority of my career across the seas. I’m the Founder-Editor of a webzine called, that I started in London. The core values of this passion project are to promote storytelling and improve literacy to aid the Indian and South Asian community.

How did you end up working with refugees?

I did my Masters in International Relations, and whilst studying, I published interviews with the Head of UNHCR India, Dr. Augustine P. Mahiga and my work on Internal Displacement and Migration. I must have done reasonably well, since I joined the UNHCR Delhi office in the Public Information and Resettlement teams, and was entrusted with reviewing Afghan clients. There was a constant stream of Afghans fleeing their country because of insurgency and war, and India has always been a natural ally.

When I moved to the U.S. in 2021, Afghan resettlement in Greensboro had just started. I started looking for opportunities to help out, and approached Lynn Thompson, our Director of Community Engagement to tell her that I’ve worked with Afghans in India, speak Urdu and would be happy to help since I knew the diaspora well.

Leilani called me for an interview, and I started by volunteering. The rest is history. NAI is my second home; our clients are my extended family. I am constantly thinking of ways to help them through the services our office provides, and on a personal level. Many have become friends and are like family to us. They call for advice, during emergencies and include me in their festivities.

Who was your greatest influence?

I want to mention my dad for shaping me for this kind of work. My parents were refugees from Bangladesh when it was a part of undivided India, way back in the 1940s. As a religious minority group from the Hindu community, their families fled Bangladesh to take asylum in refugee camps in India. My father was barely four at that time, but he remembered the struggles and extreme violence and genocide that followed.

While growing up, we listened to his stories about displacement, and he exemplified service to the less privileged. I volunteered at the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa’s orphanage, and had the privilege of meeting her in person while I was at school.

My dad was a star. He taught us courage, tolerance, respect and to live humbly. Education had to be used to be a voice for the voiceless. He provided an environment for us to develop the sensibilities needed to work with human rights and social justice issues. He was an extremely liberal man who made us study in a convent, participate in interfaith prayers, respect and understand differences in people. This is how being a refugee can shape you to being strong, resilient, respectful and grateful.

How are refugees misunderstood?

The pathway for refugees to the country is often misunderstood. The Refugee Arrival Determination process is not simple, and has several stages to make it fair and equitable.

The President of the United States consults with Congress and sets an annual ceiling for refugee admissions. This ceiling is called the Presidential Determination. By law, this ceiling shall be “justified by humanitarian concern or otherwise in the national interest.” The Presidential determination should be declared before the new fiscal year begins on October 1.

The President is required to consult with the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. In this consultation, cabinet-level representatives must explain the intended number of refugees to be admitted and provide an analysis of their impact on the United States economy, and foreign policy among other things.

Congress adopted the consultation process to ensure that it could provide input into the resettlement process. Congress also plays a critical role in shaping resettlement through the annual appropriations process by funding resettlement and integration programs that welcome refugees.

How do refugees enrich the community?

Refugees are able to integrate and quickly become self-sufficient and successful, paying taxes, supporting local commerce, filling needed positions with N.C. employers and providing jobs by starting more than 200 small businesses across the state in the last three years.

Between 2005 to 2015, refugees contributed a total of $269.1 billion to the U.S. economy, far surpassing the 206.1 billion spent assisting them.

What do you wish others knew about refugees?

The word ‘refugee’ generally connotes economically challenged and unskilled communities. This is not true — refugees come from all backgrounds, some of them have been important community leaders in their own countries and have high levels of skill and ambitions. They may face initial challenges with language and cultural differences, but with their resilience, hard work and some initial support, they soon start giving back to the community in a very profitable manner.

Sarkar says refugees have taught her so much: “Personally, I’ve learned to build empathy and understanding of their situation. I’ve learned to recognize their resilience in rebuilding their lives. I’ve also learned gratitude and humility. I’ve learned to respect what refugees, immigrants and asylees bring to the table and draw inspiration from their courage to survive and rebuild from scratch.”

Working with the different international communities.

Working with the different international communities.

Working with the different international communities.

Working with the different international communities.

New Arrivals Institute

New Arrivals Institute

New Arrivals Institute


New Arrivals Institute

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The 1951 Refugee Convention  describes a refugee as someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or for their political opinion is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself or herself, of the protection of that country…”

Here are some facts frequently shared by the New Arrivals Institute:

*Over the last ten years, N.C. has resettled 17,835 refugees

*NC ranks 8th in the nation for refugee arrivals

*Since 1975, 3,466,988 refugees resettled in the U.S.

*Top countries of origin for immigrants were Mexico (28%), India (9%), Honduras (4%), China (3%)

  The Photo Album

This photo album is a paginated portfolio of images related to this interview. The download contains a zip file with all of the images.

Story Collaborators
Tina Firesheets

Tina Firesheets

Co-Producer PAVE NC


Tina started her career in journalism with her high school newspaper, then served as editor for the campus newspapers of both colleges she attended.

She was a journalist at the Greensboro News & Record for nearly 15 years, covering education, local government, community news, and business.

She was also the founding editor of 1808: Greensboro’s Magazine. Receiving awards in the Best Niche publications categories.

Currently, she is an associate creative director at Pace Communications. A lover of writing and creativity, she’s happy to be a founding Co-Producer for PAVE NC!

Dave, Maunaleo Ventures

Dave, Maunaleo Ventures

Media Production

Dave is a builder, fixer, and protector of digital things. He has worked for small businesses and Fortune 200 companies across multiple industries, including financial services, manufacturing, and defense.

Dave was born in the District of Columbia but considers the Districts of North Kohala and Hamakua his spirit home [once from the District, always from a District]. Dave does not do social media or answer the phone very often, so if you want to reach him, you will probably need to go analog. Brah,  dasswhyhard!

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