Agency chief says community response to refugee resettlement ‘overwhelming’

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ARLINGTON, Va. – The flow of refugees and other immigrants to Northern Virginia over the past year has been uninterrupted – but Migration and Refugee Services staff from Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Arlington have followed the unprecedented need.

The Ministry of Resettlement has received more than 1,000 new arrivals since October. It restructured and nearly doubled the size of its staff from 33 to 62, even opening a new office in Woodbridge, Va., to handle the influx.


“The response from the community has been overwhelming,” said Belayneh Loppisso, director of the Diocesan Agency, one of three resettlement agencies in Northern Virginia.

He said parishes and donors across the diocese have generously responded to Amazon wishlists and other collections, providing food, furniture and household items.

In addition to its regular immigration streams, the agency last August began resettling hundreds of Afghan families who fled to the United States for safety after the fall of Kabul.

In October, the government granted emergency humanitarian status to an additional 78,000 refugees.

Since Oct. 1, the start of the current exercise, Loppisso said his staff has resettled more than 850 Afghan parolees — those granted emergency humanitarian status — in addition to about 150 Afghans on visas. immigrant specials, most of whom had helped the US government. assignments in Afghanistan.

According to Catholic Charities USA’s latest annual survey, 12,000 Afghans have been resettled in 36 states, including Wisconsin, where Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Green Bay helped resettle 127 Afghan refugees in the Green Bay area during the past year.

In this diocese, on June 20, World Refugee Day, leaders of Catholic Charities took the opportunity to welcome Afghan refugees to their new community and to thank all the local agencies that helped make their resettlement possible.

At a World Refugee Day celebration at Resurrection Church in Allouez, Wisconsin, Karmen Lemke, director of Catholic Charities, greeted many refugee families as well as representatives from community and government agencies who played a role in the resettlement of Afghan refugees.

“To be honest, we didn’t quite understand what we were being asked to do or what we were saying yes to,” Lemke said in his opening remarks. “But I could tell you that we would never change the direction we were going.”

The celebration, which drew about 150 people, included remarks from Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich and a letter of gratitude from an Afghan refugee read by Tara DeGrave, associate director of Catholic charities/head of services at the childhood and family.

World Refugee Day is an international day designated by the United Nations to honor refugees around the world. The celebration has been celebrated locally for the past few years by Catholic charities, but this year’s event – just months after a whirlwind of activity to resettle Afghan refugees from September 2021 – was a celebration more poignant.

“Today, after saying ‘yes’ together as a community, I am proud to say that we welcomed 127 individuals and family members, many of whom are here tonight in the Green Bay area,” said said Lemke. guests. “So first and foremost, I want to take a moment to recognize and welcome our new neighbors and celebrate their arrival here.”

In his remarks, Genrich thanked the Catholic Charities team for “everything they have done to roll out the red carpet for our refugees.”

“The mission that Catholic Charities live is something that I have been exposed to all my life, as a baptized and confirmed Catholic person,” he said. “Welcoming the stranger is really an important part of Catholic teaching. The importance of hospitality is a cornerstone of all great religions and all great cultures and something I believe very strongly in and something we try to live in the city of Green Bay.

DeGrave read a letter written by Arash Sultani, an Afghan refugee who is now employed by Catholic Charities as an immigration counselor helping other Afghan refugees.

“My family and I are among those who arrived in Green Bay in September last year,” Sultani wrote. “The journey was not easy…but the fear of dealing with illogical beings…made me and my family want to strive and succeed. We are here today, seeing and thanking the possibility.

While the challenges of escaping violence in his homeland were great, Sultani wrote, the welcome he and his family received made it worth it.

“Green Bay is beautiful and hospitable, but all the new stuff seemed a bit overwhelming at first,” he wrote. “But I believe it was all worth it and always will be because right now we are far from war. We also feel secure economically and can build and plan our hopes for the future, which is not was not possible all these years in Afghanistan.

More than 100 Catholic charities in dioceses across the country serve migrants and refugees, according to Catholic Charities USA, the Alexandria, Va.-based national office of 167 local diocesan Catholic charities.

Local agencies helped 608,000 migrants over the past year.

In the Diocese of Arlington, Catholic Charities has been welcoming newcomers from around the world since 1975, but Loppisso said numbers this year have far exceeded the previous peak of around 700 to 800 people in 2017, before government policy does not reduce immigration.

He told the Arlington Catholic Herald, the diocesan newspaper, that the number of immigrants in 2020 was around 400, so numbers had dwindled before the numbers started to rise again.

In addition to Afghan refugees, the agency has helped resettle approximately 55 refugees and immigrants from other countries, including El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Sudan, Ethiopia and Congo.

Loppisso said one of the latest arrivals to the diocese is a family of Sudanese refugees displaced years ago by Sudan’s civil war. They arrived at Dulles International Airport in June, having stayed in Egypt for the past 20 years while awaiting clearance to join relatives in Fairfax County, Virginia.

Additionally, Loppisso said a few Ukrainian refugees also began arriving in Northern Virginia after the US government announced plans in March to take in up to 100,000 Ukrainians and others fleeing Russian attacks.

Most of those arriving in Virginia are sponsored by family members who live here and have requested that displaced relatives join them.

“When they come here, we are allowed to provide services,” Loppisso said.

With federal funds and local donations, the agency provides a wide range of services to migrants, including employment and housing assistance, mental health, youth and senior services, English and other education courses, including technology, student programs and cultural integration for families.

Although many immigrants have work skills, they often have to take entry-level jobs to start earning income upon arrival.

But the families are just grateful to have left the dangers at home and arrived safely in this country. “Safety is the first priority, and they really appreciate that,” Loppisso said.

He added that case managers and other staff take “a holistic approach” to helping families acclimate to their new culture, and five different staff members can work with a family in the first 90 days. , helping them with housing, employment, school enrollment, health requirements and other needs.

Jessica Estrada, director of newcomer services for Diocesan Catholic Charities, noted that many agency staff “know all too well about the migration journey, as they were newcomers themselves. “.

“They can explain why this is important not only for our clients, but also for our diocesan family. “Welcoming the stranger” is a long-standing biblical tradition of the Church,” she said, which “not only enriches our own journey of faith, but also provides new insight into how our world is interconnected”.

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Miller is an editor for the Arlington Catholic Herald, the newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington. Sam Lucero, director of news and information for The Compass, newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay, contributed to this story.


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