Tom Mulhern has been Executive Director of Catholic Community Services of Lane County since 2011. He provided an overview of the new refugee resettlement program and an update on the current status of refugees coming to Lane County.

CCS is not taking anything away from their current efforts, but instead are adding to their extensive list of services with this program.

The Refugee Crisis

There are over 21 million refugees worldwide, the highest for over 20 years. Right now, just over 1/2 come from Syria, Somalia, and Afghanistan. Neighboring countries bear the brunt of this problem, but the U.S. has throughout history accepted refugees. Last year, over 85,000 refugess came from mainly Somalia, Burma, and Bhutan. Just under 10,000 are from Syria.

Over the last 40 years, the U.S. generally accepts 50-100,000 refugees. In 1980, over 200,000 refugees were accepted and the lowest years were those after 9/11.

Refugee Resettlement Coalition

CCS was asked to take on the program by a national Catholic organization. The local Jewish federation and many others including several churches offered to help. That has evolved in to the Refugee Resettlement Coalition which involves a wide range of partners. The first family came in September and they are from Syria. They were in Turkey prior to coming to the U.S. Volunteer groups have helped them find housing, establish residency, learn English, and as quickly as possible integrate them in to the community and work toward  sustaining themselves.

The second refugee is a single woman who came from Iran in December, just before Christmas.

Another family is on their way, an extended family group of the first family that arrived.

A fourth family may transfer here from Portland, originally from Iraq, with a local connection in Eugene. Portland is handling over 500 families.

Right now, the coalition is restricted to accepting families who have a connection to someone living in Eugene already. Eventually, the program will expand to those who have no connection.

Concerns and Questions

Terrorism concerns have come up and Tom’s assurance is that the screening process is quite extensive. By the time they arrive in Eugene, they have been screened by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. After receiveing refugee status by the U.N., refugees are assigned to the United States. The U.S. government then conducts several levels of screening.

There is no difference in the crime level among the refugee community as any other general population. Most of these are families who are displaced because of terror and they are peaceful people wanting a new life.

Catholic Community Services is working to help establish immigrants and legal counsel for refugees in Lane County.

What will happen to refugee policy with the new administration is unknown.

Note: Refugees are different from those seeking asylum in that they are accepted in to the country as refugees, whereas those seeking asylum have come through their own means.

If you want to get involved, the coalition welcomes you. More information on what is needed, and an application, is here: http://www.ccslc.org/volunteer-with-the-refugee-program/