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CWS Network Prepares for Heavy Fourth-Quarter Refugee Arrivals

Contact: Lesley Crosson, Church World Service, 212-870-2676,; Jan Dragin, 781-925-1526;


NEW YORK, July 6 /Standard Newswire/ -- Gearing up for a heavier than usual influx of refugees over the next three months, Church World Service refugee service affiliates in several states are looking to congregations for help in welcoming the newcomers.


For the whole U.S. Refugee Program, that means as many as 25,000 arrivals in three months toward an FY 2007 total of 50,000. For CWS, that could mean between 600 to 700 refugees arriving each month, double the monthly average so far this year. The majority will be ethnic Karen and Chin Burmese and Africans--a significant number of them "1972 Burundians." (The "1972 Burundians" are refugees, primarily Hutus, who fled widespread ethnic violence in Burundi in 1972 and have been in refugee camps ever since.)


In Grand Rapids, Michigan, CWS affiliate agency PARA Refugee Services (Programs Assisting Refugee Acculturation) got a first wave of Burundians in late May and early June.


Elizabeth Smith, PARA's church sponsor developer, says, "We got something like nine Burundian families in nine days. And I had Burmese and Cubans arriving, too." Families ranged in size from one to eight persons. PARA could welcome dozens more Burundians in July through September.


PARA's goal is to enlist some congregational support for each refugee family, including full or partial co-sponsorship, help with community orientation, or one-time donations of cash, gift cards, or household goods.


"We just got on the phone and started calling. It wasn't just me doing it. I would not have survived! It was a team effort," Smith emphasized.


Congregations of many denominations volunteer to help


PARA worked with congregations of the Reformed Church in America and Christian Reformed Church. And, refugee resettlement staff at The United Methodist Church (UMC), United Church of Christ (UCC), and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) volunteered to phone and send letters to their Grand Rapids-area congregations.


In June, The United Methodist Church's Grand Rapids District Superintendent Rev. Laurie Haller called together area churches to hear from PARA's Smith about soon-to-arrive refugees and from her colleague Holly Chadwick about Chadwick's recent visit to three Burundian refugee camps in Tanzania. A similar, ecumenical presentation is planned for Portage, Michigan, in mid-August


Smith also makes sure to alert churches when a newly arrived refugee family moves into the neighborhood. "I'll call them and say, 'You have a family right down the street.'"


The efforts are bearing good fruit, Smith confirms, including several new full co-sponsorships and many volunteers, among them former refugees who resettled in Grand Rapids some years ago.


Rev. Donna Buckles, church sponsorship developer at Lutheran Social Ministry of the Southwest in Phoenix, Arizona, also is preparing for heavy fourth-quarter arrivals, especially Karen refugees from Burma.


Karen people already resettled in Phoenix have agreed to prepare hot meals to welcome new arrivals. And like Smith in Grand Rapids, Buckles is hoping to get church involvement with each newly arriving family.


"I drafted a letter to churches explaining who's coming and listing all of the ways they can help," Buckles said. "Then I contacted the area ministers for each denomination and asked them to email my letter to their churches with a note from them saying, 'Please consider this.' They've done that."


A Presbyterian congregation was the first to call for more information. "We are going to need so many church co-sponsors," she said, adding, "I am heartened that the churches I've talked to haven't given me the 'Oh dear, it's summer and we haven't got anyone.' They know this isn't an easy time of year."


Ohio church starts vacuum ministry


At Community Refugee & Immigration Services in Columbus, Ohio, with mostly Somali family reunification cases, staffer Colleen Rosshirt's conversation with the Outreach Committee of Northwest Christian Church led to plans for a "vacuum ministry."


"A local apartment manager had mentioned that most of her apartments had carpet but nearly all of the Somalis didn't have vacuums," Rosshirt explains. "I told the committee what a great thing it would be to have a 'vacuum ministry,' and to my surprise they thought it was the best thing they had ever heard."


Church members now are developing just such a ministry.


"It just goes to show you that you don't know what you can get until you ask," says Rosshirt.


The U.S. refugee admissions ceilings are set and funded each fiscal year (October 1-September 30). Ideally, arrivals would be distributed evenly throughout the year, but for reasons that differ from year to year, that often is not possible. If actual admissions fall short of the year's ceiling, the unused slots and funding are not rolled over to the next year.


By mid-June, the U.S. Refugee Program had brought in just 21,811 refugees from all countries. The program is pressing to resettle a total of at least 50,000 refugees by September 30.


New York-based humanitarian agency Church World Service is one of ten agencies that work with the Department of State to resettle refugees in the United States.