IRC Client Reunites with Her Family
Sofia Manaye, an IRC asylee client from Ethiopia, was able to reunite with her husband and three children this month thanks to the IRC Silver Spring employment team and the Refugee Reunification Project.
For individuals granted asylum in the United States, the dream of being reunited with their family is monumental. Asylees are here because they have proved to the U.S. government that they suffered past persecution or they have a well founded fear of persecution in their home countries based on their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. In Sofia’s case, her asylum was granted based on political persecution.
Once Sofia qualified for asylum, she was paired with Jaclyn Vaseleck, an IRC Silver Spring Employment Specialist. Although she was grateful for Jacyln’s help in finding employment, Sofia ended their meetings with the same question, “When can I bring my family over?”
It was a challenging question to answer. As a new asylee, Sofia had a limited window of time to apply for visa applications and pay processing fees for each of her four family members. Once those fees were paid, there would still be no guarantee that asylum would be granted to them, and if they received asylum Sofia would have to cover the cost of their plane tickets.
Sofia worked with Jaclyn and other members of the employment team to do everything she could to find a job. She went to job readiness trainings for customer service, hospitality, food service, retail and even took computer classes to learn how to do her job search online. It took many interviews and countless rejections before Sofia secured work as a caretaker at Sunrise Senior Living Facility. Sofia was thrilled to have a job and promptly saved two of her paychecks to submit visa applications for her family.
Sofia’s IRC case worker, Meron, also aware of the limited time Sophia had to apply for her family’s asylum , researched possible sources to assist Sophia and soon found the Refugee Reunification Project. She assisted Sofia in completing and submitting the application.
The Refugee Reunification Project (RRP) is a donor based organization that exists to help asylees in reuniting with their families. Ninety nine percent of all funds RRP raises go to helping asylees purchase plane tickets to bring their family members to the United States (1% goes to administrative costs). RRP’s founder, Elora Mukherjee explains: “The thought and necessity of an asylee having to raise thousands so quickly can be daunting and insurmountable. They usually do not have family members in the U.S. to borrow money from, they do not have access to stable long term employment, they do not have a regular job or it is a minimum wage job or under table job where they are being exploited. They do not have connections to community networks, friends, or religious institutions to help them raise the money that they need.”
Elora started RRP because she knew an asylee who was in this situation –trying raise money in the short window of time before visa expire. The thought of him missing his the deadline and having to choose only one of his children to come to the U.S. was a devastating thought for Elora. “It can be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, for asylees to raise enough money before the visas expire. Their children and/or spouses are often stranded in devastated areas of the world. Sometimes they are in eminent physical danger, while the asylee in the US is doing everything in his or her power to raise the money necessary to reunite with his or her loved ones. It can be simply impossible to do so.”
Once the IRC and RRP connected, it was clear that Sofia was a strong candidate for reunification. With glowing references and a rapidly shrinking window of time, RRP held a special board meeting to decide if they would award Sofia the full amount necessary to bring her husband and three children to the U.S. When Sofia heard that the board had granted her request she was ecstatic. “I jumped to the roof!” she said.
A few weeks later, Sofia was back in the IRC office with her family by her side. She expressed overwhelming gratitude to the Refugee Reunification Project for giving her the gift of her family. As for the IRC, Sofia expressed love to Meron and her employment specialist, Jaclyn, who is now known in her house as “the famous Jaclyn”. Sofia reflected, “I invite others to come to the IRC. Sometimes they help you psychologically, sometimes economically. They take the time to listen and really help you”.