Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Program, a local affiliate of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services, provides core resettlement services to newly arrived refugee individuals and families.
Refugees are individuals who have had to leave their country because of a well-founded fear of persecution or death. Specifically, they are targeted because of their religious or political beliefs, their social standing, or membership in a particular social class.
Often, refugees must flee their countries with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They may live in refugee camps for years enduring harsh weather, small rations of food, and little or no health care or education.
Refugees arrive in the United States with usually just a small duffle bag of belongings. Within just a few months, however, most refugees are completely self-sufficient. Through their hard work and drive to succeed, studies show that after ten years, refugees are as well off as native-born Americans.
Once we receive notice of a family’s approaching arrival, we must secure and furnish an apartment where they will begin their new life. Relying almost totally on donations of gently used items from community members and corporate donors, these first homes are furnished with minimal but comfortable belongings.
Case managers and sometimes already-established family members work with arriving refugees to complete critical tasks such as applying for Social Security cards and short-term benefits, receiving a medical screening and immunizations through Siloam Family Health Center, and enrolling adults in ESL and children in school.
Case management, employment, and a host of other wraparound services are available to all of these clients for up to five years from their date of arrival or status approval.
Our diverse staff comes from at least 10 countries and speaks over 20 different languages, but we still depend heavily on volunteers to help clients with social and cultural adjustment. For some of our clients, everyday tasks such as navigating a city bus line, grocery shopping, and cooking on a stove are completely new ventures. Our volunteers are invaluable in assisting with these lessons eventually leading to self-sufficiency.
Serving refugees since 1962
Catholic Charities has always been engaged in the humanitarian aid to refugees, starting with the finding of foster homes for 43 Cuban refugee children in 1962. In 1972, at the request of the United States Catholic Conference, the agency’s Refugee Resettlement Program was formally established and primarily served refugees fleeing political turmoil in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. By 1995, over 10,000 refugees had received help through Catholic Charities of Tennessee.
To date, services have been provided to refugees of many different faiths from more than 35 countries, though the majority of our current clients have been displaced from Bhutan, Burma, and DR Congo.