We have all seen the recent headlines and the horrific images of people fleeing Afghanistan. This issue is heartbreaking and extremely complicated. In the coming months, many Afghan refugees will be coming to the United States to start a new life, and there are many ways Houstonians can welcome them and help them get settled.
Have you ever had to flee? I have moved a lot, but I have never had to flee a place. A refugee is someone who had to flee their home country because of conflict and persecution. Without knowing a refugee’s specific story, you still know they have a story. Every refugee that comes to America is fleeing something:: a war, conflict, or persecution.
The Refugee Resettlement Process
Did you know that refugees do not get to choose their country of resettlement? Once a person or family has been selected for refugee status they go through approximately 2 years of interviews and background checks. This process involves three in-person interviews with officers from the Department of Homeland Security and a medical screening. Eight separate agencies are involved in the process of screening refugees.
Refugees coming to the United States are assigned a new city to live in based on many different criteria, one of them being family reunification. When a refugee is resettled, they work with a local non-profit. The non-profit will provide federally-funded assistance for approximately the first 6 months. Some of the non-profits that work with refugees have another non-profit that comes alongside the newly settled refugees to be their friends and help them in the first few months of their transition to living in the United States.
A Change of Heart about Refugees
Welcoming a family to the United States is a special feeling. I know because several years ago I got to stand at the airport and meet a family- my new friends- who were coming to America. There was a time when I would never have considered welcoming refugees to our country with open arms. I am thankful for all of the information I have learned, but it was their stories that made all the difference.
I didn’t always look at refugees with the eyes and the heart I have now. I will admit I didn’t know much about the refugee process and I didn’t really want to know more. After a very serious talk with a friend and some soul searching, I realized my views on the refugee crisis didn’t match with my views on how people should be treated.
When we moved back to Texas, I learned that Houston was home to many refugees. I didn’t realize that Houston welcomes more refugees than any other city in the United States, but I knew there were opportunities to put my new beliefs to action. I wanted to find an organization where my kids could be involved with me. I wanted us to meet new people and learn about places we have never been.
If you would like to support refugees, especially those here in Houston, there are many ways you and your children can help. Did you know that 51% of refugees are children? The opportunities in Houston are plentiful for you and your children to befriend a refugee family and help make their transition to their new life just a little bit easier.
How You Can Help Welcome Refugees
Houston Welcomes Refugees is an organization that works with a non-profit resettlement group. Help create Welcome Kits or be on a Welcome Team.
Refugee Services of Texas also works with a non-profit resettlement group. There are many volunteer opportunities, although their offices remain closed as of this writing due to COVID-19. They do, however, have Amazon registries and a wishlist if you would like to purchase items for families in need, or you can donate directly to the organization.
Mercy House Global employs local refugees to create beautiful pieces of jewelry. You can purchase these pieces on line or at the Mercy House Global Location in Magnolia where you can also volunteer to help further their mission of helping women around the world.
Preemptive Love supports refugees with sales of their handmade goods.
YMCA International Services does local work directly with refugee families helping them resettle in new cities, and is always taking donations.
Legacy Collective is an Austin based organization allowing people to give with confidence to thoroughly-vetted nonprofit organizations solving systemic issues with sustainable solutions. They are currently taking donations for their Afghanistan Relief Fund, which aids women and children.
Don’t be afraid to volunteer with either of these organizations. There is great training and people that can answer your questions. Sometimes it can feel awkward to sit with someone that you can’t share words with, but smiles and friendship speak volumes. Children are wonderful ambassadors and are naturals at making friends.
Today, take some time to read the stories of refugees, who have had to flee for their very life and in many cases, the lives of their children. Thankfully, there are many organizations to get involved with to help with this global crisis right here in our city.