Local charity working to place refugee families in Western Massachusetts

By Afnan Nehela

Erica Lowenkron/Collegian

Catholic Charities Agency in Springfield and the UMass Arab Student Club are working together welcoming refugees to areas in Western Massachusetts.

On Feb. 17, the first Iraqi refugee family was welcomed to Northampton following President Donald Trump’s immigration ban executive order.

President Trump signed an executive order temporarily banning visitors from several Muslim countries in January, making it hard for anyone from these countries to enter America. The seven countries barred are Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

The Iraqi mother, Jasimiyah Hussein, and her two sons, Ayoob Al-Dulaimi and Yousuf Al-Dulaimi spent the last two years in a Turkish refugee camp before coming to the United States.

The family was not available for comment.

Executive director of Catholic Charities, Kathryn Buckley-Brawner, said that the family settled in smoothly and enthusiastically.

Catholic Charities is a reception and placement agency for incoming refugee families. It provides longer-term resettlement stability services and immigration assistance to all refugee populations after the families have been placed.

The organization takes care of many logistics including housing acquisitions, incoming immigration documentations, acquiring of social security numbers, health insurances, EBT (food stamps), required medical checkups, English languages assessments, development and job search and connecting them to their “circle of care.”

The circles of care provide support and companions to help the family navigate the local community and culture.

Buckley-Brawner said that the process of placing families following President Trump’s ban has become more difficult as far as housing is concerned.

“First, because it is difficult to secure and hold housing for an indefinite time” she said in an email. “The on-again, off-again cycle is not helpful. Second, because we have so far received, and could continue to receive, families that have medical issues. Finding housing that can accommodate the physical disabilities is a challenge.”

When asked about the Iraqi family’s feelings and emotions when settling, Buckley-Brawner said, “They are happy, enthusiastic and so grateful to be in a welcoming, safe community. The young men, particularly, are eager to keep moving on to the next step. They are actively pursuing their English learning and are looking forward to getting their first job.”

Catholic Charities is expecting three other confirmed families to move into the area within the next couple of months.

“There is no real way of knowing when [the families] will be allowed to move. Emphasis [at the International level] has been on moving those who are most at risk, either because of imminent danger or because of health situations. Movement has been happening in discreet time windows [week by week],” Buckley-Brawner said.

The UMass Arab Club works with Coordinator of Outreach and Resource Development of Catholic Charities Susannah Crolius, to welcome the families that come to Western Massachusetts.

“As students on campus we have been trying to help out with just making this place feel more like home,” said Hind Aljarahi, vice president of the UMass Arab Club and student majoring in public health sciences and Middle Eastern studies.

Aljarahi explained that students have been offering interpretation services, and are now in the process of creating greeting videos which will feature students from different backgrounds on campus saying welcoming messages to the families.

The club is also donating a portion of the sweatshirts they are selling to Crolius, who will use the money to create workshops and arts and crafts events that will bring in refugee women and children.

Crolius said that the club has been a great asset to Catholic Charities.

“We do a lot of public speaking events, so it’s always helpful to have an Arab perspective at these public education meetings, someone to speak about the Arab culture,” she said.

Crolius describes the club as “true partners” for the refugee program. “I love working with them, everyone is so eager to assist in ways I can’t as an American white person.”

For the refugee women that are not currently working, Crolius also is hoping to start a weekly event in which all the women gather and get to know each other.

“[Refugee] women are almost always left out of the picture because the federal system is geared to getting the head of the household employed. So these events are meant for the women, for them to learn more and have social connections,” said Crolius.

She is hoping the UMass Arab club will be able to help with that program as well.

Afnan Nehela can be reached at [email protected].