More than a dozen refugee families from war-torn areas of the world, particularly Afghanistan and Iraq, will be relocated to the Hudson Valley early in 2017.
This initiative is thanks to the efforts of a coalition of local universities and faith based organizations called the Mid Hudson Refugee Solidarity Alliance in partnership with Church World Services (CWS).
According to a fact sheet created by CWS, today we face the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II, with more than 65 million people displaced from their homes as a result of war. Additionally, an average of 24 people were forced to flee every minute and 51 percent of the world’s refugees were children.
CWS is one of nine refugee resettlement agencies in the United States which contracts with the federal government to resettle refugees and administer services and assistance to help the families adjusting to their new lives. CWS has helped over 850,000 in the past 70 years.
The Alliance includes: Vassar College, SUNY New Paltz, Dutchess Community College, Mount Saint Mary College, Bard College, Vassar Temple and Christ Episcopal Church in Poughkeepsie, Masjid alNoor Mosque in Wappingers Falls, as well as the Dutchess County Interfaith Council and the Greater Newburgh Interfaith Council.
Professor and Chair of History at Vassar Maria Höhn was involved in the beginning stages of creating the alliance. Last spring, Höhn taught a six-week class about the refugee crisis which inspired her students to begin thinking about how they could help beyond advocacy. After meeting with a synagogue, Vassar Temple, a Christian Church, Christ Episcopal and a Mosque, Masjid al-Noor the group contacted CWS to help them navigate through the process.
“Since that initial contact, more congregations have joined up to do the same, as well as local institutions of higher education,” she said. “That is how all this started and we hope to be welcoming families soon to the Hudson Valley.”
Reverend Susan Fortunato at Christ Episcopal Church said that CWS coordinates with the state department to move refugee families through a series of transportation and when they ultimately arrive at the airport, they will be picked up by CWS and brought to local communities.
By the time these families are cleared for resettlement in the U.S. they will have been thoroughly vetted by the State Department and Homeland Security for about two years. Fortunato said that only part of the funds for resettlement comes from the government and that groups like the Alliance are crucial in the resettlement process.
“What I understand is that the government allocates $2,000 per refugee family for resettlement, now that’s not very much so it’s local organizations like my church that agree to sponsor a family and that requires us as a church to raise about $6,000 to help that family to get furniture, get the support, get the transportation they need to make the transition into America as quickly as they can,” she said.
The Alliance also hopes to provide access to services such as dentists and doctors, language classes and furniture. Volunteers are also encouraged to get involved and contribute in terms of furniture and household goods.
Fortunato said that the exact location for the families resettlement is not know at this time and will likely be different for each family.
“Every family is really unique and the goal of the organization is to relocate the families in areas where they will have the greatest chance of success,” she said.
The Alliance and CWS look forward to welcoming refugees into local communities early next year.
“It is the right thing to do, and it is the American thing to do,” Höhn said.