Comedian John Oliver and IRAP Executive Director Becca Heller stand onstage holding microphones with live video of the stage being projected behind them.
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IRAP Tonight with John Oliver Celebrates Refugees, Draws Big Laughs in NYC

On Tuesday evening, more than 700 people crowded the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall for IRAP’s first-ever benefit event, IRAP Tonight with John Oliver. The event gathered some of the most passionate defenders of refugee rights, IRAP staff, and former IRAP clients and refugees for a night filled with emotion and, of course, big laughs.

IRAP’s Executive Director, Becca Heller; first female Afghan pilots and former IRAP clients, Masooma Hussaini and Sourya Saleh; Partner, Paul Weiss, Carl Reisner; and comedian, John Oliver

In her opening remarks, Becca Heller, IRAP’s Executive Director, highlighted the need to continue supporting refugees and urged the country to not make the same mistakes that were made in the past, citing the voyage of the MS St. Louis and the over 900 Jewish Holocaust refugees aboard, who were turned back from the United States.

“Let them in! Let them in!”

-Becca Heller on what Americans should demand of the Government in regards to refugees

The event also premiered IRAP’s mini animated film, A Refugee’s Journey, which depicts the story of a mother and and her daughter, as they are forced to flee their home and seek legal assistance to be reunited and reach safety.

First female Afghan pilots and former IRAP clients, Masooma Hussaini and Sourya Saleh, joined award-winning Executive Producer and Creative Advisor Joanna Coles, OBE, for a riveting conversation that chronicled their long and difficult journey from becoming the first women to be trained as Afghan helicopter pilots, to facing discrimination and security threats that eventually led them to reach out to IRAP and seek safety in the United States.

“It looked like I was stuck in a very well-dug hole that was so dark, that no matter how loud I screamed for help no one would help me [and] IRAP was the only one that came to help me.”

-Masooma Hussaini

Carl Reisner, Partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, was presented with IRAP’s Visionary Award for his invaluable service and aid to IRAP, which has played a pivotal role in the organization’s success.

Comedian and Host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, John Oliver, and Comedian and Host of HBO’s Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas, Wyatt Cenac, delivered with gut-busting sets that craftily wove comedy into refugee advocacy.

Wyatt Cenac erupts the room in laughter with a masterful set and capitalized on honoree Carl Reisner, leaving the stage without his award.

John Oliver delivered with a set that added his signature comedic genius to his experience as an immigrant living in the United States.

IRAP would like to give a huge thank you to all of our incredible supporters that attended the event and contributed to the success of the evening. IRAP’s growth over the last ten years would not have been possible without the community that has stood by the organization as it continues to advocate for the rights of refugees and displaced people around the world.

For more visuals and coverage of the event, check out our Instagram story and Facebook gallery.

Photos: Rick Gilbert/Skyhook Entertainment for IRAP