Last year, Catholic Charities’ Migration and Refugee Services office settled more than 600 refugees and served hundreds more. We celebrated World Refugee Day 2016 with about 75 refugees, community supporters and staff members. Our annual event educates the community about the lives of refugees coming to our diocese and honors their successes in America.
“Thank you for this opportunity. Thank you for a safe place to live with my family.”
Nkeshimana Josephat spent 36 years living in refugee camps in Congo and Tanzania. His parents fled war and genocide in their home country of Burundi when he was an infant.
Now, Josephat lives in Fredericksburg with his wife and their four children. He has a full-time job in landscaping and his oldest daughter just graduated from high school.
“It’s a miracle to be here,” he said to the crowd at Catholic Charities’ annual World Refugee Day celebration.
Catholic Charities’ Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) office hosted the event on June 21, celebrating refugee success stories and some of the different cultures that refugees hail from.
“We see all of the sad things happening on the news every day, so today we decided to make it a real celebration,” said Dr. Pat Maloof, MRS program director.
Who are refugees?
There are currently about 65 million displaced persons around the world, including 21 million refugees.
The United Nations defines a refugee as someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.
Once leaving the refugee camp, most refugees will return to their country of origin when it is safe to do so or will be integrated into the country to which they fled. Some remain in refugee camps for decades.
Less than one percent of refugees will have the opportunity for resettlement in a new country of asylum — like Josephat and his family. They were settled in Virginia in 2008 after extensive background screenings and biometric checks by the U.N. and the U.S. government.
About 85,000 refugees are expected to be resettled in the U.S. this year. The U.S. government partners with nine resettlement agencies; the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is the largest, resettling about one quarter of all refugees in the U.S.
“When you are brand new, you need someone to hold your hand and show you what to do,” Josephat said. “Catholic Charities helped us.”
How does Catholic Charities help refugees become self-sufficient?
Catholic Charities’ MRS office is the largest resettlement agency in Northern Virginia. Our staff steps in the moment the refugees arrive at the airport, and many preparations have been arranged before the family lands.
MRS works with landlords to secure leases for the refugees, obtains furniture for their new apartment and has food waiting — a hot meal that is culturally familiar and basics in the refrigerator. From there, family members are enrolled in ESL lessons and receive support finding a job or enrolling in school.
Approximately 85 percent of our refugees are employed within six months. The goal is for the families to be self-sufficient as soon possible.
Here are a few other ways we assist with self-sufficiency:
Since its founding in 1975, Catholic Charities’ MRS has helped settle more than 23,000 refugees. Two more of those refugees are teens Samuel and Zahra.
Samuel also spoke at the World Refugee Day celebration. He is a 2015 graduate of T.C. Williams High School, where he excelled inside and outside the classroom.
“Challenges in the United States pushed me to grow in a whole new way,” he said. “The most important thing I learned was about resilience.”
He is currently on full scholarship at the University of Virginia and hopes to pursue a medical degree to serve the less-fortunate in developing countries.
“As a refugee, I don’t take anything for granted that you have done for us.”
Zahra spoke at another Catholic Charities MRS event that celebrated the achievements of refugee students. She read this poem that was published with Womens E-News, and she was named the publication’s Top 5 Teen Voices Partner Stories of 2015.
Zahra and her family arrived to Virginia in October 2015 as refugees from Afghanistan. She belongs to a group called the Afghan Women’s Writing Project where she writes poems, essays and opinion pieces on different topics affecting her community and young Afghan girls like her.
To support other families that are assisted by our Migration and Refugee Services program, please make a donation or sign up to be a volunteer. We need assistance with tutoring, mentoring, resume writing, furnishing apartments for refugees, teaching English as a Second Language and sorting donations. For more information, please call 703-778-9128.