Full house hears plan for refugee settlement
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.
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.