Refugees—Fresh Starts Require New Friends

16 04 2017

(an interview with Nick Armstrong of Glocal Community Partners)

For the past 3 years Nick and Laura Armstrong have been working with refugees in Boise, ID. Over 50% of the refugees coming to Boise are Muslim, and not everyone in the community is ready to welcome them. So Nick and Laura built relationships with 45 local churches to train and mobilize Christian families to start a friendship with a refugee family. I asked Nick to share about the refugees’ rocky path to starting a new life in America.

JB: How does a refugee end up in Boise, ID?

NA: It’s actually quite difficult to come to America as a refugee. About 1% of the over 21 million refugees in the world get resettled to a “third country” such as the US (for example, a Syrian flees to Jordan and gets refugee status there and then applies for a third country resettlement) and about half of those actually get approved to come to the US. Those refugees who get approved to come to the US go through a vetting process that is, by far, the most stringent of any entrant classification (e.g. tourist, student, business visa), and it takes a minimum of 18 months to go through the US vetting process which includes the involvement of the National Counter-terrorist Center, the FBI, the State Department, Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense) with an average time of 3 years to pass through a stringent vetting process before they can come to the US. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in cooperation with “3rd country” resettlement governments determine where a refugee will go, which means they could end up in Finland as easily as in Boise, ID. The family ties a refugee has in a “3rd country” can influence that decision, but there are no guarantees.

JB: Who takes care of them once they arrive in Boise?

NA: The Organization for Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in Washington D.C. coordinates with resettlement agencies such as World Relief, to determine the allocation of refugees to the various resettlement cities and agencies throughout the US. In the case of Idaho, once the refugees arrive, they receive an 8-month Transitional Refugee Assistance (TRA) from the resettlement agency which receives federal government funding. There is additional financial support from state and local governments. This helps them to rent a home, look for a job, get kids signed up in school, get medical coverage, join English language classes, etc.

Our role in this process is to help the newcomers to find local friends. They’ve lost their friends and community, and we want them to find new friends and a new sense of community in Boise. These new friends can also offer much needed social capital to people who need as many positive connection points to the community as they can get.

JB: What are some of the challenges resettled refugees face?

NA: These refugees have spent their most recent years in camps, etc., with a service-oriented mindset. They fled their homes with nothing, so everything had to be provided for them. They arrive in a similar place of need and similar mindset. They need integration and independence skills, especially language, and this takes time and a lot of help.

Many refugees come with various degrees of mental stress and traumas from the past, some come with PTSD. Most come with feelings of isolation and grieving tremendous loss. They need healing for their hearts. Some are finding healing and a new sense of community. But a few, like one woman we know whose PTSD is so overwhelming she continues to hide in her home after 2 years, need more help than the 8-month government program. They need a loving community who will reach out and walk with them through this tough transition.

JB: How have the citizens of Boise responded to the refugees?

NA: Well, I think that overall Boise has been a very open city with a mayor who has led the way in reaching out to refugees, recognizing the many benefits they can bring to the community. Having said that, there are still instances of hate crimes and bullying. The recent political climate has stirred up fear of refugees being potential terrorists, although the data doesn’t support such fear. Since 1975 over 3 million refugees have entered the US, and not one single terrorist attack on US soil has been perpetrated by a refugee! Our refugee crime rates are lower than the general populace. So that’s one of the challenges for us, to educate people and especially the churches that we work with to cast aside their fears and offer true friendship.

In our program, we require each Christian family to commit to weekly visits for 3 months with a refugee family, after that their level of involvement is up to them. I’m happy to share that 44 of the 45 Christian families in the friendship program have continued long past the original deadline and are delighted by the two-way friendships they’ve developed with the refugee families.

JB: Nick, I want to thank you for the wonderful work you’re doing! I love showcasing people on my blog who really live out “love your neighbor as yourself.” God bless you and your work!





1001 MORE Ways to Die in America (part 2)

10 11 2016
huffingtonpost.com

photo from huffingtonpost.com

Recently I addressed the fear that many Americans face that Muslim jihadists may infiltrate our nation posing as refugees and conduct terrorist attacks against us. I argued that although this is possible, living in fear of such an event makes no more sense than living in fear of lightning strikes or of dying from falling out of bed—both of which caused more deaths in America last year than Muslim terrorists did.

But have you ever paused to wonder how your fellow American citizens feel, who happen to be Muslims? Do you think they might also struggle with fear that anti-Muslim vigilantes in America might attack them?

The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism reported an estimated 260 violent attacks against Muslims in America during 2015, the highest total since the months immediately following 9/11. They hypothesized that anti-Muslim political rhetoric was the primary cause in the increase.

CNN writer Daniel Burke summarizes the vicious variety in these attacks in his article, ”The Secret Costs of Islamophobia.” (http://edition.cnn.com/2016/09/23/us/islamerica-secret-costs-islamophobia/index.html)

   Muslims have been shot and killed, execution-style, in their living rooms and outside of their mosques. They have been fatally stabbed on their way home. They have been beaten in their stores, in their schools and on the streets. They have been kicked off airplanesegged outside Walmartscorched with hot coffee in a park, shot in cabs and punched while pushing their children in strollers. Their clothes have been set on fire and their children have been bullied. Men have come to their door and told them that they would burn down their house if they did not move away. They have been fired for wearing hijabs and for praying. They have seen their cemeteries vandalized and their Quran desecrated. A Muslim congressman has received death threats, and business owners have posted signs advertising “Muslim-free zones.

   Heavily armed men have protested outside mosques in Texas and Arizona, arguing that it’s their patriotic duty to protect the country from Islam.

   People have covered the doors of a mosque with feces and torn pages of the Quran, left a severed pig’s head outside a mosque, firebombed mosques, urinated on mosques, spray-painted the Star of David and satanic symbols on mosques, carved swastikas and crude drawings of penises into signs at mosques, set fire to mosques, threatened to blow up mosques and kill “you Muslim f****,” fired rounds from high-powered rifles into mosques, wrapped bacon around the door handles of mosques, left hoax bombs and fake grenades at mosques, threatened to decapitate congregants at mosques, sent suspicious substances to mosques, written notes saying, “We hate you,” “We will burn all of you” and “Leave our country” to mosques, rammed a tractor-trailer into a mosque, thrown bricks and stones through the windows of mosques, pelted Muslims with rocks as they left mosques and stood outside mosques shouting, “How many of you Muslims are terrorists?”

This type of behavior breaks my heart! Does it break yours? Every one of those events happened to real people—nurturing fathers, gentle mothers, children wide-eyed with innocence—people just like you and me.

If you think you have something to be afraid of because one Muslim family moved into your neighborhood, how do you think they feel, surrounded by non-Muslims, with no idea who might be a violent, gun-carrying Muslim-hater that might attack them while they’re pushing their baby in a stroller down the sidewalk?

Fear goes both ways. And in 99.999% of the cases, that fear of the unknown can be shattered by walking up and introducing yourself, getting to know your neighbor, and starting a friendship. Every Muslim American needs non-Muslim friends to feel safe. And every Muslim you reach out to in love means one less fear you’ll have to worry about on your checklist.

I challenge you—the next Muslim you see, determine in your heart to approach him or her with a smile and introduce yourself. Ask about their family, work and dreams. Then write me and tell me what happened.

And try to do this before Christmas comes and finds you singing, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me…”