News Story on Local Karen Refugee

One of the local refugee girls, Helber (age 16), has been a gift to her community in a whole lot of ways…registering other kids for school, helping people with paperwork and appointments….translating….the article below recognizes both her contributions to her community, and the journey to America.
 
http://www.seattlemet.com/issues/archives/articles/refugees-0709/

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Worst Places to Be A Refugee

The following article by Katie Mattern,  published on IPS, states that “Gaza, South Africa and Thailand are among the world’s worst places to be a refugee according to the latest annual World Refugee Survey released here Wednesday by the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI).” (click IPS link above for rest of article).  It goes on to say “15.2 million people qualified as refugees during 2008 – down from 16 million one year ago – and that more than 800,000 were currently seeking asylum in foreign countries.”  Some 26 million more people were internally displaced (IDPs- those who fled their homes but had not crossed an international border).  

The article continues to point out that “Thailand was cited as a poor performer as a result of its treatment of Rohingya refugees – in one case the Thai Navy towed un-seaworthy boats with nearly 1000 Rohingyas and scant food and water aboard into the open sea to prevent them coming from ashore – and its plans to forcibly repatriate Hmong refugees to Laos.

This month in Thailand, refugees from fighting in Burma faced threats of being pushed back across the border.  The article here  explains the threat. According to friends in the area, trucks carrying aid were being turned away by authorities and not allowed into the area. Fortunately, Thai authorities responded graciously, reassigning those responsible, (link here) and the situation for the newly arrived is improving-the threat of repatriation is diminished for now.  

Thailand and the UNHCR have faced many years of dealing with the challenge of refugees from multiple countries.  Many people have found shelter there which has saved their lives, and helped them and their families to move to a life of freedom (not without difficulties!) through resettlement in other countries.  This article from the Irawaddy highlights some of the challenges to the whole system, which views refugees as a burden to the state they end up in, best solved by sending them home.  

Some of the world’s poorest countries are also home to large populations of refugees. Chad, a constant on the U.N.’s list of least developed countries, has a refugee population of 268,000 while Sudan hosts 175,800 refugees from Eritrea and Ethiopia.” (IPS link above)

The report gave Europe a grade of D and the U.S. a grade of F for refoulement or returning refugees to places where their lives or freedoms could be threatened. It also gave Europe and the U.S. grades of D for detention/access to courts.” (IPS link above).

 

 

Roll Call of Angels

I love angels….not the cute little cherub type  guys with white wings or harps, but the real life practical kind who do all kinds of creative things to help refugees get resettled in our lovely metropolitan area:

Minhee: the “taking dinner to a refugee who’s not feeling well” angel

Kate:  the “tutoring girls, bringing friends, mentoring and networking like crazy, be back in June, helping a single dad, going to Goodwill to help organize a household for the newly arrived” angel

Mona & Rosie: the “cell phone translation, we speak your language (literally) and can help you communicate with others what’s going on in this new world called America and bring groceries and teach you where to shop and check on other issues, mentoring a family” angels

Jenny: the “set up getting girls in school, interact with and arrange ESL classes, take father to emergency medical appointments, get furniture that fits a really small apartment (loft beds are great!), check in with the family regularly” angel

Steve: the “translation by cell phone covering three different languages” angel

Dale: the “arranging tutoring schedule for all three family members” angel

Chad & Melinda: the “let me give you some books of bus passes” angels

My husband: the “you are welcome  in my heart and my home, I will include you in my life,  help connect you to a community of people, and take you on some adventures whenever I get a chance” angel

Eunice: the “doing creative expression projects with the girls and giving Dad a break” angel

Ginny: the “welcome to my house, let’s play soccer, balloon volleyball in the living room, treat you like a little sister, above and beyond expectations” angel

Janelle: the “take you to the aquarium with some friends to hold starfish and see Seattle” angel

Tina & Linda: the “Sunday School in your language, translation by cell-phone, welcome to America, we were new once too” angels

This list is not finished…will work on it some more later, but just some examples of creative ways normal average people can help welcome strangers, pick up where the job of resettlement agencies end, and sometimes entertain angels unaware….

Where do refugees come from?

Refugees come to the US from many countries.  The US Department of Health & Human Services has a table on their web site that gives statistics of where in the country refugees have been resettled and where they have come from.  According to their web site, they came from 63 countries.  During the 2007 fiscal year the top 12 countries they fled from were:

  1. Burma                                        9776
  2. Burundi                                     4525
  3. Iraq                                             5474
  4. Thailand                                    4059
  5. USSR                                           4583
  6. Ivory Coast                                1605
  7. Cuba                                            2923
  8. Eritrea                                        1043
  9. Afghanistan                              418
  10. DR Congo                                   841
  11. Liberia                                        1576
  12. Vietnam                                      1550

From Burma during the 2008 calendar year, statistics provided by TBBC show that 17,172 were resettled to third countries during 2008 from the camps on the Thai Burma Border.  These refugees, who fled rape, forced labor, an illegal government who burns their village and takes their land, and other multiple human rights abuses were resettled in 10 different countries as follows:

  1. USA                             14,280
  2. Australia                       1562
  3. Canada                            637
  4. Finland                           283
  5. Netherlands                   144
  6. Sweden                            134
  7. Norway                             77 
  8. United Kingdom             29
  9. New Zealand                    24
  10. Denmark                             1

Global Day of Prayer for Burma

Sunday, March 8th is the Global Day of Prayer for Burma.  

Pray:

  • For political prisoners.
  • For a political solution to the armed conflict.
  • For the pastors, who are often singled out and attacked by Burma army soldiers when they first enter a village.
  • For strength, wisdom, and hope among people of all faiths who live under direct control of the military dictatorship in Burma.  Pray that they will be unified and encouraged by their efforts to serve one another through love and perseverance.
  • For all of the parents who have lost their children due to the Burma army attacks.
  • For the children who suffer the most in the conflict.
  • For a change in the hearts of the Burma army soldiers and leaders.
  • For a political solution to the armed conflict.
  • For those in the areas still devastated by Cyclone Nargis.

Some of our friends from the Karen choir at the Karen church in Kent will be participating in the service at Quest on Sunday.  Below is a translation of the song they will be singing.  Please join them, and us, in praying for Burma.

My prayer

 Alone, I cannot walk the path without you Lord.

All is barren without your presence.

All life comes from you.

Strength comes from you.

Rest my heart

May I rest in you.

Let me know just one thing.

For all in heaven and earth

And my heart is yours.

Let me believe in just one thing

That you will never leave me

And where ever you place me, there you be.

Welcoming Strangers

…A newly arrived local refugee’s 16 year old  friend used her less than perfect English skills and took him to school herself  and registered him after he had waited a month for the caseworker to do it…. there are many of these stories across the country. 
Resettlement agencies have a government contract to do a checklist of things for a limited time (90 days) for the people they resettle.  That’s their job.  They get a contract (and money) to do these things.  Some of those things include:
  1. Meet people at the airport
  2. Finding appropriate housing
  3. Provide furniture
  4. Sign up for Medicaid  & food stamps 
  5. Refer to ESL classes
  6. Obtain Social Security cards
  7. Registering kids for school
  8. Health screenings
  9. Employment referral

 If, due to caseworker overload, complexity of some cases, how long even making a medical appointment at a public clinic can take, or some other reason, it doesn’t get done, people suffer.  I see two approaches to take to this problem-for someone to hold agencies accountable to do what they contract to do, or, maybe, for the rest of us to accept the fact that it doesn’t ALWAYS get done, won’t get done if something doesn’t change and move on to How Can It Get Done and What Can We Do To Help?!  

Churches are the great untapped resource here.  We are called and commanded to love people.  This doesn’t require a great mind or a theological education.  It requires investing some time, patience, energy and creativity.  (Sometimes it’s easier to just give money).  But it’s a long-term investment that pays off no matter what the economy does or doesn’t do:) .

I found an article in the Covenant Companion this morning on creative ways for churches to welcome newcomers to their lives, their churches, and their communities (see the link). Some of her great ideas included: 

  1. Visit a refugee church (you may not understand the language, but you may recognize some of the melodies and sing along)
  2. Ask them how you can help.  Listen for answers
  3. Read to young kids in a refugee family as English practice
  4. Invite their congregation to join you for a potluck meals together
  5. Invite kids to your youth group
  6. Invite women to your women’s group
  7. Pair families by ages of children and make friends in spite of language barriers (kids will figure it out first!)
  8. Take an ESL tutoring class and tutor a family or help with homework
  9. Practice English speaking with people who don’t speak English
  10. Volunteer to take people to doctors and dentists and agency appointments (make the appointments, help with transportation-someone else may have to interpret)
  11. Help fill out forms for jobs
  12. Invite them to your holiday gatherings, go to theirs
  13. Teach computer skills (donate your used computers)
  14. Help people learn to drive and pass the driving test
  15. Help them understand budgeting in the US
  16. Host a refugee congregation in your building (thanks to Kent Covenant Church for renting space to the Karen Community and several other refugee communities!)

In summary: treat other people the way you would want to be treated if you were the newcomer.

Jesus said….”I was a stranger and you took Me in….” (Mt. 25)


Who is a refugee?

Many people are unaware of the differences between a refugee (and the intensive screening process they go through) and illegal immigrants.  Refugees are legal to hire as soon as they get here.  They are invited by the US government.  They have a limited time to learn a new language, a new culture and get employed before the assistance of the resettlement agency is finished.  (They are also some of the hardest hit by the economic chaos-bottom of the food chain minimum wage jobs seems to disappear when times are tough).  

Wikipedia explains:  “According to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, a refugee is a person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution.  “Owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of their nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail him/herself of the protection of that country.”