Fort Worth Refugee Resettlement

By Hakim Zakaria

Some have called it a moral obligation, while others have called for a nationwide “moratorium.” No matter which side of the of the argument one subscribes to, the refugee crisis has become a major topic of discussion.
Around the world, 10.5 million people have fled their homelands due to war, persecution, natural disaster or violence in search of a new life in foreign countries. As a consequence, local organizations have shouldered the load in the refugee resettlement process.
Laila Amara, area director for Refugees Services of Texas in Fort Worth, said refugee resettlement is a humanitarian cause at its core. She said our nation was built on the work of immigrants from all over the world.
“It’s a core philosophy,” said Amara. “It’s a system we need to circle back around to because that is what our country was founded on.”
Katha Pollitt, a columnist for The Nation, wrote in an article that the current refugee state is granting America and Europe “a second chance” to atone for the events of the Holocaust.
“The United States, with our rich history of immigration, and our enormous territory, should be putting out the biggest welcome mat,” Pollitt wrote.
Assistance programs seek to empower, accommodate refugees
Partners for Refugee Empowerment in Fort Worth, World Relief Fort Worth and Refugee Services of Texas – Fort Worth are a few local organizations that are working to find viable solutions to this issue. These organizations specialize in aiding refugees to better-assimilate into American society and become more self-sufficient as they begin their new lives.
Partners for Refugee Empowerment, whose main focus is “to serve as a cultural bridge for both refugees and providers toward better overall cultural integration and understanding and more rapid self-sufficiency,” was founded in 2013 by three former refugees. It offers programs catering to mental health and cultural orientation services for refugees.
The organization serves refugees from Rwanda, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Bhutan and Nepal. The majority of them are resettled in various apartment complexes around Tarrant County.
Ndolembai Njesada, program manager at Partners for Refugee Empowerment, said the organization exists to guide refugees.
“We are not here to hand them everything, but we walk them through the process,” Njesada said. “We are more into empowering than serving.”
Most refugees have had traumatic experiences, as many of them have survived torture, and are often reluctant to seek treatment because of the negative stigma associated with their homelands. As a result, Partners for Refugee Empowerment bases its organization around mental health services.
“Our educational model aims at normalizing mental illnesses’ symptoms, encouraging refugees to talk about their symptoms, providing guidance on available resources and treatment, and make appropriate referral for treatment,” according to the organization’s website.
Njesada, said the cultural adaptation is one of the biggest obstacles that refugees face when they arrive in America.
“If you don’t get into the American mindset or the American way, then it will be very hard for you to succeed,” Njesada said.
Partners for Refugee Empowerment offers a cultural orientation program with an English as a second language component designed to make the adjustment process “enjoyable and easy” for refugees. Each week, refugees meet with their community support groups to help them understand the system and cultural norms of the United States, network and learn how to express their needs.
World Relief Fort Worth offers low-cost immigration legal services to refugees. On its staff are several Bureau of Immigration Appeals accredited staff members to assist refugees.
Refugee Support Services of Texas, the Fort Worth campus, helps refugees reach their goal of self-sufficiency through their job readiness and employment program.
Through this program, refugees are assisted in job searching and skills ranging from interview tips to developing their resumes.
“We typically see 85 to 100-percent success rate as far a finding jobs,” Amara said. “North Texas is a really great place for resettlement because there are so many jobs that match with their skill set, especially when you’re talking about jobs that don’t require fluency in English.”
Amara said that the employment programs range from 6 months to 5 years, in the event that refugees have trouble finding a job or if they lose their jobs.
“Based on skill levels, there are quite a few jobs where [refugees] work in distribution, packaging and quality control,” she said,
With respect to employment, coming from educational and professional backgrounds different to those from the Unites States, often creates a unique challenge for many newcomers.
Refugee Support Services also offer a medical case management program that helps refugees adjust to the “confusing procedures regarding healthcare in the United States,” and information on how to schedule appointments, handle prescriptions and pay medical bills, among other information provided.
Refugee process far from simple
The resettlement process is an 11-step procedure that begins with internally displaced persons (IDPs) receiving refugee status from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). After that, refugees are referred to a country by the UNHCR. Following that, refugees go through security clearance and an in-person interview, after which they are either approved or denied by the Department of Homeland Security.
Next, they go through medical screening and are matched with a sponsor agency where they are offered cultural orientation courses as they await the final proceeding. They then go through a second security clearance and are finally checked at the airport to ensure they are the same person that received clearance. Upon arrival in the United States they are met by their sponsors at the airport.
When refugees first arrive in Dallas-Fort Worth, they are picked up from DFW Airport by their caseworker and transported to their new, fully-furnished apartment. In their first 90 days, representatives of Refugee Services of Texas put refugees in a program that gets them immunized and enrolls their children into school.
For refugees, admittance into the United States is the pathway to freedom. Many of them have fled their homelands due to various dire situations, of which war and religious persecution tend to be the leading causes. However, admittance into the United States is not the end of a tough road that refugees must traverse. Once they are admitted, it is often difficult for them to find employment, learn the language and acclimate to American society.