Responding to refugees

GDJ, Open Clip Art
GDJ, Open Clip Art

The Interfaith Council is grappling with the best way to support efforts aimed at improving the lives of refugees coming to the US after hearing from Andrew Hays of World Relief in Seattle.

Andrew explained that for most refugees arriving in the US it’s a ten-year trip from their homes through life on the move to the opportunity to resettle. He described the work that World Relief does to support refugees and said that while in previous years it might have been possible for communities like Bainbridge Island to host a refugee family, government restrictions and reporting requirements make that a daunting proposition. Housing, ESL opportunities, job prospects, and are all necessary and within the first 90 days there are many administrative hurdles to clear. Andrew explained that while only one Syrian refugee family has been settled in Seattle, there’s a constant flow of refugees to our region—about 1,000 people a year. Andrew said as long as there’s war, there’ll be people who need to be welcomed to new homes. John McKenzie, from Cedars Unitarian Universalist Church, noted that with the changes we’re seeing in climate, we can expect that there will also be a flood of climate refugees as well.

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That said, Dick Heine, who has been helping to coordinate a refugee response at Bethany Lutheran Church, told the group of Bethany’s involvement with a Ukrainian family about 15 years ago. He said that while it is difficult to see how a refugee family might be placed on Bainbridge, it is possible—and if it does happen it will likely occur in a flurry of activity. In that regard, he said it’s a good idea to be thinking about available housing—under $1,000 a month—support networks, etc., in advance.

Bethany, by the way, has just concluded a three-month effort to gather needed supplies for two “composite refugee families” and turned over cash and supplies to Lutheran Refugee and Resettlement, located in Tacoma. The cash is necessary because many items, such as bedding, are required by law to be purchased new. The composite families aren’t specific families, but represented what a household of a single individual might need and what a household of eight people might need. Dick said the response by the congregation to this call was immediate and generous. He noted that the need was ongoing, and welcomed the idea of sharing the burden of collecting goods.

Barbara Chrisman, from Eagle Harbor Congregational, described how she has investigated how her congregation can help. The EHCC Council has already written in support of Gov. Inslee’s outspoken support of Muslim refugees, which cited the Bainbridge Island experience with Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans who were interned during World War II. Barbara said that EHCC was holding its annual congregational meeting later this month and at this point she anticipated recommending two course of action the group could take: (1) political advocacy for refugees, who as non-voters, non-English speakers and (2) support of the household goods collection program that Bethany Lutheran has already begun. Chavurat Shir Hayam, which was not represented at the meeting, has separately expressed an interest of partnering with EHCC in a response.

Rev. Dr. Dennis Tierney, the rector at St. Barnabas Episcopal, said that his congregation is supporting a $100,000 fundraising effort to assist refugees that is being coordinated through the Episcopal Diocese’s Refugee Resettlement Office and its aptly named director, Greg Hope.

Reed Price also indicated that there is interest in this work by many members of the ad hoc Facebook group Bainbridge Islanders for Inclusion, which staged a vigil at the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial in support of statement of support of refugees (that was unanimously approved by the BI City Council this week).

Andrew Hays specifically asked for three things:

  • Engage in advocacy (he specifically mentioned Refugee Council USA as an excellent partner)
  • Help Andrew’s agency, World Relief, acquire reliable, gas-efficient automotive transportation — for carrying people and goods  [three vehicles have recently broken down 🙁 ]
  • Participate / Support the Seattle-TriCities-Spokane—aka STK—bike trip being held to raise money for World Relief: http://worldreliefseattle.org/STK. (Jessica Dubey of Congregation Kol Shalom was interested in how she might be able to support this; Len Korslund of St. Cecilia Parish inquired about need for support volunteers).

Several Interfaith Council members said that they would take this information back to their groups.

The IFC will also maintain a page on its website (http://binkinterfaith.org/events/refugee-relief/) to capture information about refugee relief, so that anyone who is interested in attaching to ongoing activities can join in and anyone with information to share can get it posted.

The email here is info (at) binkinterfaith.org.

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