Church group may resettle refugees

Religiously Speaking

The Salem-Craig areas are ripe for the resettlement of one or more refugee families, the Rev. Bryan Buckles of Central United Methodist Church believes.

At a gathering earlier this month at Salem Presbyterian Church Buckles called for community support, such as is working in Blacksburg, to help a refugee household for at least six-months. Full self-sufficiency early, through getting a job, is the goal, he emphasized.

The group included some members of a Salem area clergy fellowship, an assortment of lay persons from several nearby churches and others active in Salem Area Ecumenical Ministries (SAEM). They heard Amar Bhattarai, a manager of refugee resettlement for the Roanoke office of Commonwealth Catholic Charities (CCC), outline the work that agency has done for 92 years for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Richmond.

With the help of CCC, Buckles and the host minister, the Rev. Will Robinson envision that residents of Salem and the western parts of Roanoke County could raise around $5,000 to cover the first weeks of a household’s time in the area by providing food, rent, furnishings, driving to a job and helping children become settled in school.

Bhattarai, himself a refugee from the Asian nation of Bhutan nine years ago, now speaks heavily accented English but indicated he has become skilled in his job on the staff of the Catholic agency which directly helps those forced to flee their homelands.

It’s important to understand, Bhattarai told the group, that refugees and immigrants are different. Refugees are forced to leave their country on pain of death or imprisonment because of war, political upheaval or religious persecution. More than 50 percent of them are children.

Immigrants, on the other hand, come voluntarily on legal visitors’ visas, as students or for specific jobs. They can and do return to their homelands without fear. No one, said the speaker, undergoes more thorough screening than those coming with refugee status.

The Asian speaker outlined the work of the Catholic agency which is one of three offices serving Virginia. Housed in downtown Roanoke, it complements similar offices in Richmond and the Tidewater area, about 140 staff total work in the three offices which earlier were known as Refugee and Immigration Services and were busy especially at times of global upheavals, Bhattarai said.

Church people were active in resettling refugees following World War II, the Hungarian rebellion against the Soviet Union 60 years ago and following the Vietnam and Serbian-Bosnian conflicts in more recent years.

There’s a new model for helping the newcomers become assimilated as soon as possible, Bhattarai explained. Doing it as a community with more than one church or civic club involved gives more structure to the process and ensures that self-sufficiency is attained as early as possible.

However, last year when a group in Blacksburg involving members of several influential congregations approached CC C to aid a Syrian household, enthusiasm was great enough for several refugee families to be assisted, the speaker noted. A longer-term commitment such as a year or more will cost up to $15,000, he estimated.

Several at a local interest gathering indicated a commitment to helping with the project. Buckles at 540-389-2933 may be called for more information. He anticipates another planning meeting by the end of May.

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