Group forms to welcome refugees
NEWTOWN - The Syrian refugee crisis has sharply divided politicians, but it is having an opposite effect for some greater Danburians, who are coming together to make new lives in America a reality for immigrants.
Residents who might not ordinarily mingle are finding they have common ground when it comes to building a support network for families fleeing the Syrian Civil War - a conflict that has produced what some observers say is the largest refugee crisis since World War II.
“We look around our dinner table and ask how we would feel if we were among of those millions of refugees,” says Rick Chamiec-Case of Newtown, the leader of a group that plans to provide everything a refugee family needs to start a new life in greater Danbury. “It doesn’t seem right to say that the problem is too big for us to fix, so we are trying to help in whatever small way we can.”
In Newtown, Jews, Muslims, Christians and members of other faith communities have formed The Interfaith Partnership for Refugee Settlement. In Ridgefield a similar group is organizing to provide a refugee family with an apartment, employment, education and other essentials of the American Dream.
“Every community has to play a role,” said Ann O’Brien, the co-chair of the Refugee Resettlement Committee of Ridgefield, which has already raised $10,000 of its $15,000 goal for the family’s startup costs. “New immigrants are the backbone of our society.”
The two new resettlement groups in Newtown and Ridgefield are part of a growing network of small volunteer communities forming under the guidance a New Haven nonprofit called Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, which has been finding refugees new homes in Connecticut for 34 years.
The nonprofit is working with 60 groups across Connecticut that are interested in sponsoring a refugee family. Twenty-five of them have already been trained, and 20 have already relocated refugee families in Connecticut.
Those groups that have already sponsored refugees include:
· Danbury Area Refugee Assistance, which was created in 2015, and which placed a Syrian family in an area home this summer, and
· The Refugee Resettlement Ministry at the Congregational Church of Brookfield, which formed 10 years ago and has sponsored six families from Syria, Iraq, Liberia and Nigeria.
The Syrian refugee crisis has become a divisive political issue. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has suggested that Syrian refugees are a potential threat to homeland security. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton says the United States should continue to welcome refugees from Syria through the current screening process, which includes checks of criminal records and possible ties to terrorist organizations.
In Newtown, Chamiec-Case said he understands some people might be concerned about security or spending tax money on non-Americans.
“IRIS has an extensive vetting process,” Chamiec-Case said. “And we don’t want to overlook the contributions that refugees make in our communities. We see this effort as enriching our communities.”
Each sponsor group sets up committees to manage connections to housing, employment, education, social services and other needs. The hope is that the refugee family will be able to live on its own after six months.
The Newtown and Ridgefield groups are each calling for community support.
The Ridgefield group, which already has 30 members, will host an information session at 10 a.m. Sept. 15 at the Ridgefield Library. For more details, send an email to RRCRidgefield@gmail.com.
For more details about the Newtown group visit http://www.iprefugeer.org.