Volunteer support sought for refugees arriving in 2017

  • Kathryn Buckley-Brawner, executive director of the Catholic Charities Agency of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, speaks about refugee settlement during a house party hosted by the Northampton Human Rights Commission at the home of HRC member Christine Young on Sunday. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

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    At a house party to support refugee settlement on Sunday, Adim Malek of East Longmeadow talks about his experience being resettled in the Springfield area in 2005 after being one of the "lost boys of Sudan." —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

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    Adim Malek of East Longmeadow spoke Sunday about his experience being resettled in the Springfield area in 2005 after being one of the "lost boys of Sudan." Featured speakers at the house party to support resettlement also included Lauren Vitiello, left, a training officer at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Newark Asylum Office, and Meghann Boyle, center, director of the USCIS Boston Asylum Office. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Meghann Boyle, center, director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Boston Asylum Office, and Lauren Vitiello, left, a training officer at the USCIS Newark Asylum Office, address a gathering Sunday at the Northampton home of Christine Young. At right are Joel Morse, right, and his wife, Natalie, and behind them is Adim Malek. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Patricia Jenkins, left, Lauren Simonds, Judith Fine and Elizabeth Bertone-Johnson sign up for various ways to welcome and support refugees to Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton Ward 7 City Councilor Alisa Klein speaks during a house party to support refugee settlement hosted by the Northampton Human Rights Commission at the home of HRC member Christine Young on Sunday. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Kathryn Buckley-Brawner, executive director of the Catholic Charities Agency of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, introduces Adim Malek of East Longmeadow, a refugee from South Sudan who was settled in the Springfield area in 2005 and went on to earn a business and marketing degree from Elms College. They were among several speakers at a house party to support refugee settlement hosted by the Northampton Human Rights Commission at the home of HRC member Christine Young on Sunday. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

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    At a house party to support refugee settlement on Sunday, Adim Malek of East Longmeadow talks about his experience being resettled in the Springfield area in 2005 after being one of the "lost boys of Sudan." —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

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    Participants at a Northampton Humans Right Commission-hosted house party on Sunday had the opportunity to sign up for various ways to volunteer and lend support for refugee resettlement, including employment, housing assistance and forming "Circles of Care", of six to eight people or households, to welcome refugees and support their on-going integration into the community. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Participants at a Northampton Humans Right Commission-hosted house party on Sunday had the opportunity to sign up for various ways to volunteer and lend support for refugee resettlement. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 10/23/2016 11:51:14 PM

NORTHAMPTON — It was 1988 when 10-year-old Adim Malek fled his home country of South Sudan.

As a “lost boy of Sudan,” Adim walked to the Ethiopian border to seek refuge. There was no one to carry him if he was tired. He said the trek was like “trying to carry yourself to escape death.”

But the government was overthrown in Ethiopia, Malek said. He later fled to Kakuma, a refugee camp in Kenya. In 2005, he was able to come to the United States and was placed in Springfield.

Malek, now 38, shared his story during a community gathering on Sunday as Catholic Charities Agency of Springfield prepares for the 51 refugees who will arrive in Northampton throughout 2017.

The Northampton resettlement is part of a broader effort. President Barack Obama increased the number of refugees to be resettled in the United States from 70,000 in 2015 to 85,000 in 2016 and 110,000 in 2017.

The agency plans to host about 10 families from Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Iraq and possibly Afghanistan.

Refugee status is granted to people who have been persecuted or fear they will be persecuted on account of race, religion, nationality, social group or political opinion, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The average time spent at an African refugee camp is about 17 to 20 years, according to Catholic Charities Executive Director Kathryn Buckley-Brawner, and for some children, a refugee camp has been their only home.

According to Lauren Vitiello, a training officer for the Department of Homeland Security’s Newark Asylum office, refugees are carefully vetted which includes DNA tests to determine family relations.

“The amount of people that are on the waiting list because they are still being vetted is huge,” she said.

As a contracted reception and placement agency, Catholic Charities will provide services to refugees when they arrive.

Sunday’s community meeting was hosted by the Human Rights Commission to educate residents about refugee resettlement and seek volunteer support for the project.

The organization aims to provide the refugees more support than just basic needs and is focused on creating a community-based model aimed to resettle them and reintegrate them into the community.

“They had lives, dreams, careers, families,” Buckley-Brawner said. “We want to create an atmosphere where that can be lived again.”

Catholic Charities will provide household goods, interpreters and translators as well as making sure refugees are enrolled in English language courses and have applied for social services benefits.

But the main priorities are permanent housing and employment.

After 90 days in the United States, refugees must have permanent housing, Buckley-Brawner said. However, she said, housing options in Northampton can get pricey. As for job opportunities for refugees, Buckley-Brawner said, it depends on their level of English, but most are minimum-wage.

Malek said when he arrived in the United States he shared a two-bedroom apartment in Springfield with four other refugees. He could speak English and started with a job as a case selector at C&S Wholesale Grocers.

Transportation was a problem — Malek had to learn how to drive. But he said it was the support of Catholic Charities and Jewish Family Services that helped him succeed.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in business management and marketing from Elms College in Chicopee. He now has a bank account and is a citizen of the United States. He has reconnected with family members and married a woman in Africa. Last year, his daughter was born.

“If I did not come here, I may not have a family, education,” Malek said. “And maybe I would not be alive.”

For more information or to volunteer visit welcomehomenorthampton.org.

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at cashworth@gazettenet.com.




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