Full house hears plan for refugee set­tle­ment

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - Mid-Hud­son News Net­work

POUGHKEEPSIE >> The Church World Ser­vice plans to open a refugee re­set­tle­ment of­fice in Poughkeepsie in 2017.

Erol Ke­kic, direc­tor of the Im­mi­gra­tion and Refugee Pro­gram for global hu­man­i­tar­ian agency, an­nounced the plan Thurs­day evening dur­ing an stand­ing-room-only in­for­ma­tional meet­ing at Christ Epis­co­pal Church in Poughkeepsie.

The Rev. Sue For­tu­nato wel­comed the crowd that wanted to learn about the plans for the fa­cil­ity, and Sara Krause, se­nior direc­tor of pro­grams for the Im­mi­gra­tion and Refugee Pro­gram at Church World Ser­vice, spent the bet­ter part of two hours, along with in­put from Ke­kic, ex­plain­ing how refugees will en­ter the United States.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment sets quo­tas for the an­nual num­ber of refugees who can en­ter the coun­try dur­ing each fis­cal year, which runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. In fis­cal 2016, 84,995 refugees from 79 coun­tries en­tered the United States through the pro­gram, which is un­der the su­per­vi­sion of the United States Refugee Ad­mis­sions Pro­gram. The refugees were re­set­tled by 34 re­gional of­fices.

The Poughkeepsie re­set­tle­ment of­fice is to re­ceive ap­prox­i­mately 80 refugees in the fis­cal 2017, and Ke­kic said they should not be a bur­den on the lo­cal com­mu­nity.

“There is plenty of af­ford­able hous­ing and there are cer­tainly en­try-level po­si­tions that refugees can fill,” Ke­kic said.

The fed­eral pro­gram de­fines a refugee as “some­one who has fled from his or her home coun­try and can­not re­turn be­cause he or she has a well-rounded fear of per­se­cu­tion based on re­li­gion, race, na­tion­al­ity, po­lit­i­cal opin­ion or mem­ber­ship in a par­tic­u­lar so­cial group.”

The re­set­tle­ment process nor­mally takes up­wards of one year.

Clergy from many de­nom­i­na­tions spoke in sup­port of the plan at Thurs­day’s meet­ing.

Rabbi Leah Berkowitz, of Vas­sar Tem­ple in Poughkeepsie, said her con­gre­ga­tion heard about the plight of Syr­ian refugees and wanted to welcome those flee­ing from per­se­cu­tion.

“My com­mit­ment to sup­port those flee­ing per­se­cu­tion and op­pres­sion stems from both our sa­cred text and our peo­ple’s history,” Berkowitz said. “Our To­rah tells us that ev­ery hu­man be­ing of ev­ery race and na­tion is cre­ated in the image of God, and the ex­pe­ri­ence of refugees is our ex­pe­ri­ence be­cause we were strangers in the land of Egypt. Our peo­ple have, in nearly ev­ery gen­er­a­tion, ex­pe­ri­enced per­se­cu­tion, dis­crim­i­na­tion, dev­as­ta­tion and ex­ile. We have also ex­pe­ri­enced, in many of those gen­er­a­tions, the kind­ness of strangers and the hope of build­ing a new life in a land of op­por­tu­nity.”

Dahlia Vazquez-Habib, of Dutchess Outreach, con­curred.

“Refugees should be treated fairly when ar­riv­ing, much the same way that our an­ces­tors ar­rived in the United States,” she said,

The same sen­ti­ment was not shared by all, many of whom ex­pressed con­cern that the refugees would bur­den lo­cal re­sources.

The fed­eral pro­gram has been crit­i­cized for not in­clud­ing lo­cal gov­ern­ments in the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process, and school of­fi­cials have said refugees’ lan­guage bar­ri­ers lead to poor per­for­mance rat­ings for lo­cal schools.

Krause said the Church World Ser­vice staff will meet next week with Poughkeepsie school district Su­per­in­ten­dent Ni­cole Wil­liams to dis­cuss the po­ten­tial im­pact on the Poughkeepsie schools.

The is­sue of se­cu­rity also was raised by many in at­ten­dance on Thurs­day. But Ke­kic said that, “to date, not one sin­gle refugee has com­mit­ted a crime in the United States.”

Ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion about the pro­gram can be found on­line at bit. ly/1wWl­gaM.

PHO­TOS COUR­TESY OFMID-HUD­SON NEWS NET­WORK

There was a full house Thurs­day evening at Christ Epis­co­pal Church in Poughkeepsie for a meet­ing about the refugee re­set­tle­ment plan.

Sara Krause, se­nior direc­tor of pro­grams for the Im­mi­gra­tion and Refugee Pro­gram at Church World Ser­vice, speaks dur­ing Thurs­day’s meet­ing.

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