Catholic Charities: Syrian refugees unlikely to settle in state

| December 1, 2015 | 4 Comments

The likelihood that Minnesota would receive an influx of Syrian refugees is low, said Catholic Charities experts who work with refugee resettlement, but that shouldn’t diminish Christians’ willingness to help and welcome Syrians, or overshadow the needs of refugees from other countries who arrive in Minnesota.

“Most of the refugees come because they have a family tie here,” said Laurie Ohmann, Catholic Charities’ vice president of client services and community partnerships. “Because there haven’t been many Syrians settled here, our role will likely be small.”

The charitable organization has been supporting refugee resettlement since the 1970s and resettles about 300 refugees annually.

Following revelations that the Nov. 13 attacks on Paris were carried out by Islamic State militants trained in Syria, many American leaders expressed concern about or resistance to allowing Syrian refugees into the United States, fearing it would provide a portal for terrorists.

Within a week of the attack, more than half of U.S. governors stated that Syrian refugees were not welcome in their states. Others, including Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, said they would not oppose the arrival of Syrian refugees. Meanwhile, an online petition to bar Syrian refugees from Minnesota garnered 21,500 signatures.

Pope Francis and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have consistently called for the U.S. government and international community to support Syrian refugees, both Christian and non-Christian. In September, President Barack Obama announced that 10,000 Syrians will be allowed to enter the U.S. next year.

In a Nov. 24 online forum for youth and young adults, Bishop Andrew Cozzens, auxiliary bishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, said Syrian refugees should be viewed “as people in need, not as terrorists.”

He said he favored appropriate screening measures, “but we have to remember that we have a responsibility to help refugees, and that many of them are Christians fleeing for their lives because they have been kicked out of their homes by Islamic extremists.”

He added: “We must open our hearts to these people who have lost their homes, and many have lost their homes because they share our faith and . . . refused to deny their faith.”

According to the USCCB, at least 4 million Syrians have fled their country due to civil war and the emergence of ISIS. Of them, 1,500 have entered the U.S. as refugees.

Since 1974, nine Syrian refugees — including one family of seven who arrived last year — have settled in Minnesota. According to the Minnesota Department of Human Resources, none are scheduled to arrive in Minnesota.

Ohmann said she understands why people are fearful following the Paris attacks, but that “the notion that we can increase our security by limiting our interaction with people who are different than us” is unfounded.

“Refugees go through more screening than you or I do as a tourist,” she said.

Ohmann said Catholic Charities has received many calls from people who want to help Syrian refugees locally. There is a prevalent misconception that people can house refugees in their homes, said Katie Radloff, who works with refugees at Catholic Charities. Although that used to be possible, the resettlement program now relies on affordable housing.

However, Ohmann said, Catholics can help by supporting refugees who do settle in Minnesota, and suggested neighborhoods and parishes make a stronger commitment to welcoming people who have resettled near them. She noted that St. Timothy in Blaine organizes a cleaning supply drive each Christmas for refugees in Catholic Charities’ program, which works with refugees for their first 90 days in the state.

According to the Minnesota Department of Human Resources, about 2,400 refugees resettled in Minnesota last year through the U.S. Refugee Admissions program. Of them, more than 80 percent are refugees from Myanmar and Somalia.

Tags: , , ,

Category: Local News