By Lisa Chism
LEE’S SUMMIT, MO – On Thursday, January 12, Holy Spirit Catholic Church of Lee’s Summit hosted an informational forum about refugees, which coincided with National Migration Week for 2017. Approximately 100 people from the local community turned out to listen to three guest speakers who shared their knowledge about this important world issue. Two families who have recently settled in the Kansas City area after going through the resettlement process also joined the panel forum.
With the recent U.S. presidential election and world events in war-torn overseas countries, the plight of refugees and persons emigrating to other countries not of their home origin is an issue we see in the news often. The images of young children held captive in war zones in Aleppo as well as U.S. unrest over immigration and border laws has made this a complicated and controversial topic.
Father Paul Turner, pastor at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in historic Northeast Kansas City opened the presentation with a definition of what a refugee is, along with facts and insight on the Catholic Church’s stance on this issue.
Refugee: A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for race, religion or other reasons is forced to leave their home country and has crossed the border outside the country of abuse.
Fr. Turner explained that the theme for National Migration Week 2017 is “Creating a Culture of Encounter.” This title was inspired by Pope Francis who is from Argentina and is the son of immigrants. Pope Francis asks us to look beyond ourselves to the needs of others. The Catholic Church supports human immigration reform.
Since 2010, 3.6 million immigrants have become legal U.S. citizens. Many Americans are concerned about the number of illegal immigrants crossing our borders. Fr. Turner sees the larger issue as refugee children. Most are from Central America, not Mexico, and are abandoned at the border. Most are fleeing violence, human trafficking, gang recruitment and poverty in their birth country and are seeking to reunify with family already in the U.S.
Fr. Turner also shared that forced displacement of people is at the highest level since World War II and more than 65 million people are currently displaced around the world. The current rate of displacement is 34,000 people per day. The United States will accept 65,000 refugees this year and that number will increase in coming years.
Guest speaker Abdul Baker, program director for Della Lamb Refugee Services of Kansas City is a former refugee. He gave a heartfelt account of his background and role in resettling refugees sent to the Kansas City area by the State department. He explained the culture shock many of these refugees feel upon settling in America and how challenging it is to help them find affordable housing and paying jobs within a short amount of time of relocating here. He gave a personal account of his journey to get his bachelors, masters and Ph.D. degrees and how he considers it a gift to be an American. He said one thing that all refugees have in common is hope.
Dr. Sofia Khan, organizer of “KC for Refugees” wrapped up the presentation. The vision of her organization is to provide a unified platform for diverse communities to help create a welcoming environment for refugees moving to and living in the greater Kansas City area. Her group’s mission is to help educate community groups on the refugee settlement process at national and local levels.
One of the families resettling in northeast Kansas City came from Central African Republic. Some of the challenges they have faced since they have moved into their new home are: intruders breaking into their home and shooting the mother, the son recovering from successful surgery on his leg, and the daughter experiencing bullying in her high school. The mother works sewing flags. They belong to St. Anthony Catholic Church.
The other family is from Syria where they were farmers. They are now settled in Independence. One of their neighbors was present and spoke of what a blessing it was having the family in their neighborhood. People have come together to support and help this family. It has helped to unite their neighborhood.
It was an eye-opening experience for the 100 people who were in attendance. They came to a better understanding of the vetting process that happens with refugees. An average stay in refugee camps is 15 years. Refugees are the most rigorously screened population coming into America. This screening happens before they ever set foot in our country. The United States has the most thorough background checks of immigrants of any nation in the world.