CSSMV’s Refugee Resettlement Program serves refugees in the Greater Dayton area. Refugees are individuals who have fled or been forced to flee their countries of origin because of fear of persecution and violence. Often, they leave their homes with few possessions. They may spend decades in refugee camps before being resettled in other nations. Many never return to their home countries. As part of this special feature, which showcases a collaborative project by U.S.-born and refugee students, we had the chance to ask a few questions of Katie Jipson, TAG-D Coordinator of the CSSMV.
MT: Your organization serves as a portal for refugee resettlement. What does that mean? What support do you provide refugees who come to the region?
KJ: Refugees are funneled into cities through nine national volunteer agencies, or volags. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is our agency’s umbrella volag. All refugees coming in to the country have a specific location to which they are being sent. This means that each case (family, individual, etc.) is selected by a volag, and then sent to one of the city locations. We are the only portal, or service agency, for refugees coming into the Dayton area as there are no other agencies under any other volags in the city or surrounding areas. Cincinnati and Columbus have agencies under volags, but those are the closest two.
MT: What support do you provide refugees in the region?
KJ: The post-arrival support we provide is mainly as a referral agency. Pre-arrival is preparing and securing housing, and setting up the house, utilities, etc. Post-arrival we refer
refugees to social services agencies, schools, hospitals, health care, etc. We do not provide language access for any other agency outside our own.
MT: How many refugees does your agency help resettle each year? How many do you expect to help in 2017?
KJ: We resettle about 250 refugees each year. Last year, there was a push to resettle more, so we resettled more than 300. This coming year, our numbers are again at 250.
MT: Who are the refugees that come to Dayton? What are the circumstances that they are fleeing?
KJ: Our largest population comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire). We also see some refugees from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, and Sudan. Everyone is fleeing from persecution, that is what makes them a refugee. Each circumstance depends on the country from which they are fleeing. The Congolese have a long history of persecution, whether by colonial powers, governments, or business empires.
MT: What do refugees bring with them when they resettle? What do they need when they get here, and in the weeks and months that follow?
KJ: Depending on where the refugee is from and where they have lived, they might bring with them as little as nothing but the clothes on their back to upwards of 15 suitcases. It always depends. They need everything. When we are setting up their housing, we are using money that has been set aside for them specifically for housing (rent included). We try to stretch every dollar, so donated household items are important. Everything from a couch to shower curtain rings to utensils to shoes.
MT: What is the biggest challenge that refugees face here?
KJ: Language access. That includes the individuals learning English and organizations providing language services. The Dayton community is in need of interpreters. There are just not enough to meet the demand.
MT: What should people in the Dayton area know about the people who resettle here? What would you most like them to understand?
KJ: They should know that these families are just like me or you. They want to be safe, happy and successful in their new lives. They did not necessarily want to come to the United States but were forced to do so. Some people were very successful doctors, teachers and business owners in their home countries, and now they have to restart here.
MT: How can people in Dayton help individuals and families who resettle here? What are the most important needs that your organization and the people you serve have?
KJ: Help can come in so many ways! Donating household items or volunteering time. Welcoming new families into their neighborhoods, schools and workplaces. Asking our agency to speak at their church or organization to learn about these wonderful people. Learning Swahili or
Kinyarwanda would also be a big help.
To learn more about CSSMV, the people they serve, and how to help, visit them online at http://www.cssmv.org/services/refugee-resettlement/, or phone 937-223-7217. You can also read refugees’ stories and learn more about refugee resettlement in Dayton at http://www.welcomedayton.org/.