Finding Refuge: Dona Abbott

Finding Refuge: Dona Abbott preview

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - This week, starting Monday, WZZM 13 is going to share stories with you of refugees who have resettled in the US. We realize that this is a controversial topic and some people feel strongly about limiting the practice of bringing refugees to this country.

Bethany Christian Services is one of the organizations that has been helping refugees after they arrive, for more than 4 decades. Dona Abbott is the Refugee Program Director for Bethany and she joined the Weekend Morning News team to talk about how their organization supports refugees resettling here.  She answered some commonly asked questions for us.

What are the main ways that Bethany helps refugees in the US?
"We help refugees find employment, we help them find community, learn English, we help children who are unaccompanied find foster homes where they can grow up and become independent adults.  We have volunteer services for refugees, some micro enterprise.  We really have a broad range of services to support refugees so they really feel apart of the community and can become valuable members of the community," explained Dona.

How are refugees connected to your organization?
"We work with national volunteer agencies who have a contract with the Department of State.  It's the Department of state who is authorized to bring refugees into the country in agreement with the president. Those numbers are set annually and then they work with those volunteer agencies who refer refugees to West Michigan that fit our community. Maybe there is a community already here, maybe there is family members here or there are some special employment opportunities that fit their skill set. So all those matches are done and then they are referred to our agency for all those services."

Bethany asks local churches to partner with them to help refugees acclimate in the US.  Tell us more about that partnership?
"That partnership is so valuable. When I talk about wanting refugees to be part of the community, we at Bethany are involved in a refugee's life for a short time.  Churches co-sponsor, they volunteer, they provide resources, both financial and donated goods, and they welcome refugees into their faith communities. Through that refugees have long term relationships and really feel like they belong to a community because of that," Dona said.

Where does the funding come from to help these refugees as they resettle here?
"It's really blended funding," explained Dona. "It's a strong partnership. The federal government reimburses the initial cost of refugee resettlement, ESL classes, employment services, but then it's matched by donation dollars and the donation of goods.  For a newly arriving refugee we have a lot of community members who donate couches and all those things families need to make a home.  And we have financial resources then donated also to help pay teachers to teach ESL classes, etc."

Bethany has been helping refugees resettle here in the US long before President Trump's travel order. What are your chief concerns about that and what's happening right now?
"So what's happening with the ban is the 120 days it doesn't seem like much, most of us say that is a very short period of time, but refugees are vetted in a way that takes almost 2 years for most refugees, for some even a little longer.  And that process is on a continuum so there are 5 federal agencies who are involved in that vetting and each one takes their turn.  So if there is a stop then they have to go and start all over again.  So if you have been approved to come and that expires, it's 2 more years. And truly refugees are in life threatening situations," explained Dona.

"When you looked at it originally, President Obama had set the number to come into the US at 110,000. President Trump has reduced that to 50,000. So 50,000 out of 63 million displaced persons in this world.  A refugee crisis like nothing we've ever seen before.  It means that your chances of getting in at all are very slim, so they are the most desperate of the desperate. So when you think of a two year delay, it will cost lives," Dona went on to say.

What would you like our viewers to know about refugee resettlement in the US?
"That refugees are a valuable part of our community.  They are here to start their lives over again because they have no choice.  Often those that meet refugees, the first thing they learn is that those individuals would have loved to have stayed in their country, to have kept their farm, or job, to have kept their family together.  But that just didn't happen and it wasn't their choice. But they are ready to start over.  They are some of the bravest, people with the most courage, faith, hope, that you will ever meet.  They are very encouraging and they just want a chance to start over.,"

To learn more about the refugee crisis, as well as the ways Bethany Christian Services offers refugee assistance, click here.

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