Congregation to help welcome refugee families to Northern Virginia
For nearly seven decades Chaddha – now an Ashburn resident – has lived with that memory of what it was once like to be a refugee and is now trying to give back to others who have been displaced from their home countries.
“I have the memory of being a refugee and how important it is to the families for them to protect their children,” Chaddha, the coordinator for the refugee resettlement program at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Sterling, said. “The new refugee families who are coming from different parts of the world to America, their children are equally important to them.”
This year Chaddha and Zubair Suri of UUCS will partner with the Unitarian Unitarian Congregation of Fairfax to help coordinate the resettlement of refugees in Northern Virginia.
The partnership is part of the Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area’s Good Neighbor Program – a program that has been around since the Vietnam war that partners with local churches and organizations to help incoming refugee resettle in the Washington D.C. metro area.
Chaddha said UUCS and LSS/NCA are currently in conversations to figure out which refugees the Sterling church will serve and are still in talks about when exactly they are expected to arrive – a date that could come as early as the end of September.
Together UUCS and UUCF have put together a team of about 70 volunteers who will assist the refugees with everything from picking them up at the airport when they arrive, to finding them housing and furnishing their homes, to helping them with getting food and clothing to even paying their rent for the first three months of their arrival.
The congregation’s partnership comes at a time when the United Nation’s refugee agency says the number of displaced people around the world is the highest it has ever been. At the end of 2015, the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Refugees found a total of at least 65.3 million people were displaced compared to over 5 million less than 12 months earlier.
“These families have been very much traumatized, they have been sleeping in camps … from one place to another, one camp to another so just giving them shelter, letting them find their bearings and become good American citizens, that’s what we’re aiming at and I think they are capable of doing that,” Chaddha said.
Since 2014, 9,494 refugees have resettled in Virginia, according to the state’s Department of Social Services. And as of September, nearly 3,000 refugees have come to the Commonwealth of Virginia – a 20 percent increase from 2015.
In the last four years the highest number of refugees to Virginia have come from Afghanistan, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bhutan and Ethiopia.
Autumn Orme, the associate director of Development and Communications at LSS/NCS, said that from last October to the end of September the organization will have served about 1,200 refugees in one year across the D.C. metro area and only expects that number to grow in the next fiscal year.
Co-coordinator of the UUCS refugee resettlement program Suri, explained that the process of resettling refugees is not quick and could take months.
“It’s not as if 'OK, here’s a family, they’re gonna come in three months. Will you be ready to host them in three months?'” Suri said. “It doesn’t happen like that. It’s the process of the vetting of the refugees and the visa etcetera, it’s a constant process.”
Even after a refugee applies for entry into the United States, it often takes months, even years, for them to go through the series of interviews and a number of rigorous background checks by the FBI, U.S. Department of State, Department of Homeland Security and the National Counterterrorism Center/Intelligence Community before they can resettle in the country.
UUCS’ partnership comes after the Obama administration announced last year it would admit 100,000 refugees from around the world in 2017. In recent days, national media has reported the White House plans to increase that number by 10,000.
The White House also indicated last year it would allow 10,000 Syrian refugees into the United States within a year -- a goal the administration has since reached but one one that ignited a heated debate in this year’s presidential campaign and at the local level in a number of Republican states that threatened to refuse to accept the refugees.
At the moment UUCS does not yet know if they will help resettle Syrian refugees but say a determination could take time for them to go through the vetting process.
UUCS Reverend Anya Sammler-Michael said that after years of being advocates for refugees, but not fully engaging in direct service the congregation decided that now was the time to finally step up.
“Sometimes when the work is out there, when it’s just...sending money to, sending donations to it doesn’t really connect you to the heart of the work and the heart of the problem,” Sammler-Michael said. “And sometimes direct service is the only way for us to be involved in a way that not only transforms hopefully the lives of the people that we’re helping, but also transforms us.”
Next week President Obama will host a refugee summit at the U.N.’s General Assembly meeting in a bid to get world leaders to resettle more refugees and increase funding to support them.
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