There are more than 4 million Syrian refugees fleeing the Syrian war into surrounding countries, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Many have gone from an educated, middle class society to Third-World situations living in flimsy plastic tent camps without water or sanitation.
Images of them crowding into boats and walking along roadways and railways throughout Europe have poured across media channels. Soon, some of them will be headed to Phoenix via Catholic Charities Community Services’ Refugee Resettlement Program.
“We are expecting to resettle approximately 600 refugees here in Phoenix this upcoming year, with Syrians being a strong number within that total,” said Joanne Morales, director of refugee programs at Catholic Charities.
The U.S. expects to admit up to 70,000 refugees from various countries this year. The nation’s president sets the number annually.
Catholic Charities staff prepared for the influx by attending a Syrian cultural training, where members of the local Syrian community trained staff on culture, history and language. Morales said staff is also working with local Syrians to identify needs and anticipate challenges.
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Catholic Charities will provide a welcoming and supportive network to help Syrian refugees gain independence and become productive members of their new community. Resettlement efforts focus on ensuring refugees attain economic self-sufficiency through the provision of comprehensive case management services and work readiness trainings.
As refugees are legally authorized to work, Valley employers are encouraged to consider employing capable candidates. Benefits for the employer include reduced hiring costs, pre-screening of applicants, vocational training as needed, and ongoing support services by job developers during employment.
Personal interaction is also key.
“Many refugees have left family and friends behind, so having a chance to have community support is essential,” Morales said, “Volunteers are able to assist refugees with employment coaching, English language conversation, life skills such as how to grocery shop, use the post office, [and navigate] U.S. laws [and] school system.”
For more than 30 years, Catholic Charities has resettled more than 1,000 refugees each year from Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Haiti and Cuba. The Phoenix ministry is among nearly 100 Catholic Charities agencies nationwide alongside hundreds of parishes that assist refugees who come into the country each year, said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Tens of thousands of people from Syria and other countries are “fleeing into Europe in search of protection,” he said, adding that images of those “escaping desperate” circumstances “have captured the world’s attention and sympathy.”
The archbishop called on the U.S. government “to assist more robustly the nations of Europe and the Middle East in protecting and supporting these refugees and in helping to end this horrific conflict, so refugees may return home in safety.”
The Obama administration announced that it was planning to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees in the coming fiscal year. However, an AP story said they are “already in the pipeline” waiting to be admitted to the U.S. and are not part of the flood of people currently entering Eastern Europe to make their way to other countries.
“In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus, Mary and Joseph flee the terror of Herod,” Archbishop Kurtz said in his statement. “They are the archetype of every refugee family. Let us pray that the Holy Family watches over the thousands of refugee families in Europe and beyond at this time.”
Catholic News Service contributed to this story.