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Episcopal Migration Ministries help resettle refugees

By Sharon Sheridan
8/7/2003
[Convention Daily] 

Episcopal Migration Ministries takes seriously the message "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You."

At a program co-hosted by the Center for Victims of Torture, EMM highlighted the work of parishes in resettling refugees. The program featured two members of a Liberian family and two members of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Minneapolis, which resettled them.

“Both bore witness to the fact that this had been an incredible, enriching experience for them and for St. Mark’s,” said EMM Director Richard Parkins.

Several other Liberians have visited this General Convention, including the bishop and the president of Cuttington University College, which the Episcopal Church founded.

Resettling churches become sources of hospitality, comfort and healthy new beginnings for refugees, who often lose their senses of trust, confidence and hope as they lose their homes, countries and sometimes families, Parkins said. Churches foster the beginning of a process of reconciliation in which refugees begin to see that people can love them and be trusted and start to regain control of their lives, he said.

Security concerns since Sept. 11, 2001, have cut drastically the number of refugees EMM and other resettlement agencies rescue, Parkins said. In 2002, he said, the United States admitted 26,000 refugees, although 70,000 could have been admitted under the ceiling passed before Sept. 11, he said. EMM settled 1,100 to 1,200 that year, compared with an average of 3,000 to 3,500 in years past. Ten years ago, the United States admitted 132,000 refugees in one year, he said.

Concerns about this and other refugee issues, including the detention of asylum seekers, prompt EMM to encourage parishes to advocate for refugees as well as resettle them, he said.

While all refugees experience trauma, some also are torture victims, Parkins said. The Center for Victims of Torture, which has its main training program in Minnesota, provides the sort of healing services that resettling parishes can’t, Parkins said. In West Africa, the center does much work with torture victims from Sierra Leone and Guinea and even trains former victims to become counselors, he noted. Episcopal Relief and Development and the United Thank Offering both have supported the center, he said.