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Welcome the Refugee

A couple weeks ago I attended an informational meeting led by a representative from Lutheran Community Services Northwest, Refugee and Immigrant Services. It was really good to get information from knowledgeable people who work firsthand with refugees resettling in America.

Some of the things that really stuck out to me:

  • Refugee has a very specific definition, distinct from migrant. Watch this short video:

  • About half the refugees in the world today are children, some unaccompanied by an adult
  • Refugees are vetted more than anyone else entering the US. Watch this short video:

  • Refugees don’t get to select the country they are resettled in

At that meeting, some people announced that a new group was forming in our county: Whatcom Refugee Support Network. I attended their meeting this past Sunday and I think it went really well. It is a loosely organized group at this point. There is not a mission statement or official goals, other than to share information and organize to help refugees.

Some notes from the meeting:

There were about 20 people in attendance. Barbara Davenport led the meeting. We introduced ourselves, talked about what we were interested in doing, and brainstormed. For many of us, this is new territory so there is much we don’t know. A practical thing we’re going to do is reach out to the four refugee resettlement agencies that operate in Washington state to find out how we might assist. One person reported there are about five Somali families in the area. Apparently there was only one Somali interpreter at the community college, but they recently relocated to Seattle.

Educational outreach was a recurring theme as well as connecting with refugee/immigrant communities. One person summed it up well, “the sooner we get to know the refugee communities, the sooner we can find out what they need.” Whatcom Literacy Council is a good connection because they offer ESL training in the county and are likely connected to these communities.

One woman in attendance has had recent experience with refugee camps in Greece. She explained there’s a tendency with western media to swoop in, share the sad stories of refugees, then leave. “Pity porn,” she called it. To counter that a bit, she did a project where she gave people disposable cameras to document their daily lives and then interviewed them to write up profiles. The goal was to re-focus on their personhood, since the label refugee can be such an overshadowing term. She will be sharing more at our next meeting and possibly as part of to-be-planned events for World Refugee Day, which is June 20.

I’m looking forward to learning more and will share information as I get it. If you’re interested in refugee resettlement in the US, get connected with one of these nine agencies that might operate in your state.

The Whatcom County Refugee Support Network’s next meeting is tentatively scheduled for March 26.

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