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Interfaith Partnership For Refugee Resettlement: Finding New Homes, Building Safer Lives



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When Interfaith Partnership for Refugee Resettlement (IPRR) launched 3½ years ago, its mission was to help refugees — families that have been displaced because of war, oppression, or fear for their lives — find a new home and build a new life in the United States.

Very little has changed. Its members remain committed to that mission, and have to date helped two Congolese families find homes in Danbury. While based in Newtown, the group has drawn volunteer members from several local towns. IPRR has settled its two families to date in Danbury due to the city’s public transportation, among other features.

Members of IPRR often find themselves explaining the difference between refugees and immigrants.

IPRR Co-Chair Cindy Dunn, who also serves as the liaison between IPRR and Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS), is quick to point out that refugees have a completely different status than undocumented immigrants.

“Refugees have been vetted, for one thing,” she said. “They’ve been waiting years. This will allow them to eventually apply for citizenship. IRIS doesn’t just pluck them out of nowhere. They work with international organizations and the government.

“Undocumented people,” she said, “have not been vetted. They just kind of come here. It’s completely different.”

Rich Chamiec-Case, who has been a co-chair since the formation of IPRR, continues to serve in that position. Rich Stein currently serves as the organization’s third co-chair.

Since its formation, IPRR has worked with IRIS, a refugee resettlement organization based in New Haven. IRIS is the Connecticut affiliate of Episcopal Migration Ministries and of the Immigration and Refugee Program of Church World Service.

In partnership with the US government and many nongovernmental donor agencies, IRIS has regularly settled approximately 200 refugees each year.

While IPRR was born by members of Trinity Episcopal Church and Newtown Congregational Church, it has since gained representatives from Al Hedaya Islamic Center, Baha’i Community, Congregation Adath Israel, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, among other local houses of worship.

The project is open, however, Mr Chamiec-Case told The Newtown Bee in August 2016, to “anyone who wants to participate. While we have been organized by faith communities, we are not restrictive.”

The first family settled by IPRR, a family of six, arrived in November 2017 from Tanzania. The second family — a mother and her two sons, who had spent 22 years in a Rwandan refugee camp — arrived in mid-2018.

IPRR arranged for housing for each family, and helped furnish each apartment. Volunteers also drove family members to school, or work, or appointments, until at least one member obtained a driver’s license.

IPRR volunteers collected clothing, and helped family members do shopping. Because IPRR settles families in Danbury, its members also helped refugees learn how to navigate the city’s public transportation system.

Volunteers also tutored family members, teaching most of them English as a Second Language. Others helped the younger members of the families with schoolwork and studies.

While both families have since moved out of the area, Ms Dunn says she and others feel the resettlement has been a success.

“We see our job,” said Ms Dunn, “as giving a family a foundation, and helping them acclimate, and live as a US citizen.

“It isn’t always easy,” she admitted, “especially with such cultural differences, but we find our way.”

Green Light Given

Fundraising had been underway to help cover rent and other expenses for the first six months of a family’s life in Danbury. Based on the cost of living in New Haven, IRIS suggests that groups raise between $4,000 and $10,000, depending on the location of the group and the cost of living.

IPRR needs to exceed that level, Ms Dunn pointed out.

“Based on our previous experiences, the cost of housing in Danbury, and the fact that we never know how large of a family we will get,” she said January 26, “IPRR feels more comfortable accepting a family when we have raised between $15,000 and $20,000.”

The local group, she said, currently has “about $15,000 right now, so our lower limit.”

In September, President Trump issued an Executive Order requiring state and local governments to consent in writing to the resettlement of refugees in their respective state or municipality.

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont responded to the order in December, saying in part “Connecticut will continue welcoming those escaping persecution and upholding the long tradition of the United States as a place that treats every human being with dignity and respect.”

IPRR had been waiting for a similar response from Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton. The group settled its first two families in Danbury in large part due to the city’s welcoming of refugees. Public transportation and a school system that was able to accommodate non-English speaking students were also key decision makers.

As of the beginning of the year, Mayor Boughton had not issued a statement welcoming — or denying — more refugees. When a federal judge recently issued a preliminary injunction blocking the September Executive Order, it meant IPRR did not have to continue waiting for the mayor’s blessing.

The actions of Judge Peter J. Messitte (United States District Court of Maryland) on January 15 suspended the Trump administration’s policy. That means IPRR is again moving forward.

“Because of that injunction, temporarily nobody has to do anything,” Ms Dunn said January 24. “This means we can go ahead and resettle in Danbury, until something happens.”

In other words, resettlement groups do not need the blessing of politicians to help families.

IPRR fully expects the administration will file an appeal, Ms Dunn said. Until that happens, however, resettlement groups can resume working toward their mission. And IPRR has done just that.

“We have given IRIS a green light,” Ms Dunn said. “Last week we put in our paperwork and told IRIS we are ready for a third family. Now we wait.”

Once IRIS offers IPRR a family, the local group has 48 hours to accept or deny the offer.

“When we accept, we have about 7 to 14 days, depending on their arrival date, to secure housing, furnish the house, and get everything ready,” said Ms Dunn. “And then we pick them up at the airport.”

Both families that have been settled by IPRR have already moved out of the area. They each connected with groups in Michigan, where large communities of African refugees have reportedly settled, and relocated.

“One thing we’ve found is finding a community is key for them,” Ms Dunn said of the refugee families, “especially the women in the families. They may not know English, and there aren’t a lot of people around here who speak these African languages.”

IPRR has heard from one of the sons in the family it resettled last year.

“They’re doing great,” Ms Dunn said. “There are hundreds of people in the church they have found who speak the African languages. And all of them are employed, even the mother.”

While both families were only in the area for a short time, Ms Dunn says she and other IPRR members are not discouraged.

“It’s really easy to feel like you’ve failed if a family moves on,” she said. “But IRIS says it’s fairly common.

“I never feel like it’s for nothing, or a waste of time,” she added. “I always feel like we’re giving them a foundation, even if they don’t use it here. They’re using it somewhere else.”

Public Events, Ways To Help

IPRR has hosted a few special events, including a Refugee Story Night in November 2018, and Immigration Information Night in October 2019.

The events have raised funds for resettling families. They have also raised awareness of the plight of refugees, as well as that of immigrants.

Refugee Story Night, hosted by Trinity Episcopal Church, saw more than 100 people gathering to share a meal presented by Greenleaf Catering, a food truck business owned and operated by an Iranian refugee family living in Connecticut.

Attendees also enjoyed a screening of Soufra, the 2017 documentary about Lebanese refugee Marian Shaar and the catering company she founded. The evening concluded with a panel discussion meant to raise awareness about the international refugee crisis.

The second event, also hosted by Trinity Church, featured keynotes by Tina Colon Williams, an IRIS board member and an attorney with Esperanza Center for Law & Advocacy; and Angelica Idrovo Castillo, Danbury lead coordinator for Connecticut Students for a Dream.

There were also some undocumented students who talked about their status.

“They touched on things you don’t usually think about,” Ms Dunn said. The two young women had arrived in this country age 8, said Ms Dunn. “They continue to be undocumented, and when they get to high school, they can’t get a job, and they can’t get their license.

“They’re always looking over their shoulder, or worrying about their parents — will they come home? Will they be deported at work?” she continued. “The lawyer talked about how the system used to be set up, and how it’s set up now. You’d think it would be an easy path, but it’s not. It really was a great night, a great program.”

IPRR is hoping to present its next public event within a few months. Robbin Chabber Allen has taken over the fundraising duties for the organization.

“She has a couple of really cool ideas,” said Ms Dunn, although nothing is ready to be formally announced yet, she added.

There are still three primary ways people can help IPRR: volunteer on one of the project’s committees, make a financial donation, and/or attend IPRR public events.

Based on IRIS’s standards, IPRR has ten committees that cover the various aspects of resettling. The committees cover everything from housing, healthcare, and welcoming to getting children settled in school, driving, finding employment for the adults, teaching English, and more.

Donations are always welcome, and can include finances or materials. IPRR occasionally reaches out when a family is in need of a specific household or personal item. Anyone who would like to be added to the e-mail blast can send an e-mail to IPRefugeeR@gmail.com with Household Goods in the subject line.

Financial donations help cover some of the expenses that families cannot afford on their own until they become more stable; IRIS suggests this occurs within six months of their arrival.

Checks can be made payable to IPRR, and mailed to the organization, c/o 5 Gallows Hill Road, Redding CT 06896. Donations can also be done through the group’s website, IPRefugeeR.org; or by calling Trinity Church, 203-426-9070.

“This is such a great way to come together as a community and help people,” Ms Dunn said. “We have so much to give in this town, and this greater Danbury area.

“The amount of support has already been amazing. I’d just like to see that continue.”

To learn more about Integrated Partnership for Refugee Resettlement, including meeting and volunteer opportunities, visit IPRefugeeR.org.

Members of the Interfaith Refugee Resettlement Project met at Trinity Church on the drizzly evening of January 14. Clockwise from upper left is Rick Chamiec-Case, Jean Maurice Calmels, Steve Bamberg, Cindy Dunn, Virginia Hutch, Kim Weber, Wendy Leon-Gambetta, Carol Bigman, Jackie Morrison, Anne Stein, and Rich Stein. The group was born from Newtown houses of worship, but welcomes volunteers from all walks of life, regardless of faith. —Bee Photo, Silber
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