Fleeing Persecution and Serving the Persecuted: A Staff’s Perspective
While I was back home, I used to work in a church affiliated humanitarian organization which coordinated assistance to the needy, those affected by natural disaster, orphans, and people struggling with different diseases, including HIV. Due to persecution by the ruling government, I was forced to flee the country in 2003. I came to U.S. and was granted political asylum.
After being granted protection in the U.S., I decided to support the mission of the IRC in Baltimore to resettle asylees and refugees who have undergone persecution and suffering like me. This is a great country because it does everything to assist those who arrive in search of democracy, freedom, and independence. It gives me pleasure to contribute all my ability to resettle them and play my part in their achieving of self-sufficiency and a better life. The positive feedback I always receive from those who are being resettled, and my observation of their life being changed for the better, makes me more energetic and motivates me to love the job.
The Asylee Program of the International Rescue Committee in Baltimore’s was founded in 2001. Since its inception, the program has been providing case management services and temporary financial assistance to over 1,800 new arrivals from over 72 countries. These new arrivals include: asylees, refugees who have migrated to Maryland from other states, Cuban and Haitian entrants, victims of human trafficking, and special immigrant visa holders from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Asylees are those that have received asylum while residing in the U.S. or upon arrival at the border. They lack protection in their countries of origin and are similar in definition to refugees. An asylee or refugee seeks sanctuary in the U.S. due to a “well-founded fear of persecution” based on his/her race, nationality, religion, political opinion, or membership in a particular group. Asylees sometimes wait years for their status to be granted, while refugees are granted their status overseas. Asylees living in the Baltimore metropolitan area obtain their status either through immigration judges in Baltimore City or from the Arlington, VA asylum office. Many are “derivative” asylees, who have joined immediate family members already resettled in the U.S.
Case management services are available to asylee residents of Baltimore City, Anne Arundel, Carroll, Frederick, Harford, Howard, and Baltimore Counties. Single adults and families are eligible for services at the IRC in Baltimore within 8 months of obtaining their status. Typical program participants are able to walk-in and inquire about our services or become aware of the services through their community ties. During the service period, participants receive assistance in accessing medical care, ESL classes, employment services, and cash assistance until they become self-sufficient through employment. One of the most significant challenges that asylees encounter is learning to navigate the various services and resources that are available in the community and learning how to advocate for themselves when they have trouble accessing those services. Program staff also emphasizes the importance of budgeting and how responsible spending will help participants succeed in the long-term.
In the federal fiscal year ending in September 2012, a total of 316 individuals were served from countries such as Nepal, Burma, Eritrea, Cameroon, Ethiopia, and Iraq. Approximately 26 individuals were enrolled into the program every month last fiscal year, with May and June being the busiest arrival months for the program. In the current year starting October 1st, 42 individuals have been welcomed into the program.
The asylee program is truly international. Two caseworkers are former refugees and all three members of the team fluently speak two languages—English and either Amharic, Farsi, or Spanish.