1st refugee family to arrive in Northampton on Friday

  • Kathryn Buckley-Brawner, executive director for Catholic Charities, and Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski bishop of the Diocese of Springfield earlier this year. The first refugee families destined for Northampton are expected arrive this week. GAZETTE PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Published: 2/14/2017 10:16:10 PM

NORTHAMPTON — After spending two years in a Turkish refugee camp, an Iraqi family plans to make their way to Northampton on Friday.

The family is one of two that Catholic Charities will resettle this week after more than a year of planning, Executive Director Kathryn Buckley-Brawner said Tuesday. The organization will also resettle a Bhutanese family in Westfield, arriving on Thursday.

“These are urgent cases,” she said, adding notification of their arrival came as a surprise. “Both of the mothers are severely disabled.”

Buckley-Brawner said she believes the women were not born disabled, but became that way due “something that happened in their home countries in their youth.”

Refugee Resettlement Coordinator Keegan Pyle said the family coming to Northampton — a 56-year-old widow who suffered from polio and has limited mobility in her legs, and her two sons, ages 20 and 26 — are Iraqi Kurds who speak Arabic. Keegan and Buckley-Brawner knew fewer details regarding the other family, saying the mother is in her 30s and has a 2-year-old boy and a 14-year-old girl.

To accommodate the women with disabilities, the agency is now scrambling to find two homes — one in Northampton and one in Westfield — that are handicap-accessible.

“We do have a couple of leads, but would welcome more,” Buckley-Brawner said. “And all of a sudden we need wheelchairs.”

The two families account for six of the 51 total refugees the agency plans to resettle. Buckley-Brawner planned to resettle all of the refugees in Northampton, but best practices issued by the Department of State dictate that families be left whole. The Bhutanese mother has a brother and sister who both live in Westfield and are ready to assume responsibility for her care.

“There really isn’t a whole lot of wiggle room in that, because this is where their U.S. tie is,” she said.

She said though the family will be outside of the agency’s resettlement site, Catholic Charities will still provide the services outlined in the cooperative agreement — social services, living quarters, income assurement and English language tutoring — “basic services we’re providing for 90 to 180 days.”

She said that while the mothers may be eligible for social security income, the agency hopes their working-aged family members will provide for them.

“The (Iraqi) mother has two grown sons who’ve been taking care of her and we’re assuming they will continue to do the same,” she said.

A group of 10 volunteers stands ready to welcome the city’s first family and care for them as they settle into the community. They’re busily learning Arabic and researching Iraqi culture to get a sense of what the family’s needs will be.

Chris Hjelt, co-leader, said they were surprised to get the call over the weekend.

“This has been quite a sudden opportunity for everyone,” she said, explaining the process is such that no one knows who is coming until very shortly before they arrive. “We had been coordinating for car seats, not wheelchairs.”

Hjelt said the group is eager to receive the family into the community, especially considering President Donald Trump has tried via executive order to freeze refugee resettlement.

“We want to get these families in while we have a window to get them in, knowing that things could change at any point,” she said.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@gazettenet.com.


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