The City of Charleston has been selected as the site to resettle 100 refugees between January and October 1, 2017.
Lutheran Services Carolinas is the agency responsible for administrating the federal program to resettle the refugees coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, and Burma.
The Holy City was selected because of the community’s legacy of hospitality and because of the faith community's willingness to work with refugees starting a new life, according to a program spokesman.
“Charleston is known for its friendly attitude and it's diverse background,” Brian Evanger told News 2. He was hired in October to launch the resettlement program locally for Lutheran Services.
The path to the US
This week, Charleston became home to a family of seven refugees from Congo.
A refugee, according to the US Department of Homeland Security, is a person outside his or her home country fearing persecution for race, religion, nationality, membership in a social group, or political opinion there.
Refugees face a vigorous process to come to the US. To begin the process, they must apply through the United Nations for the High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the U.S. embassy, or be referred by a relative who is currently living in the United States. Other screenings include approval through international background checks, biometric checks against three sets of data, medical evaluations, and interviews through the Department of Homeland Security.
“It's a security process that can take two or three years,” Evanger said. “They are the most vetted people that come into our country. “
In Fiscal Years 2013, 2014, and 2015, USCIS and the State Department succeeded in meeting the annual refugee admissions ceiling of 70,000. In FY 2016, the program was on track again to reach the higher ceiling of 85,000 refugee admissions, according to the Department of Homeland Security. USCIS is prepared to work closely with the State Department and other inter-agency partners to support a larger refugee admissions program of 110,000 arrivals in FY 2017 while assiduously maintaining the integrity of the program and our national security.
The leading nationalities admitted to the United States will be Congolese, Burmese, Syrians, and Iraqis, according to this report.
Wednesday, while testifying in her confirmation hearing, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley said we must be cautious about who we welcome into the US while supporting a program with a legacy of good.
"Our program in this country is one that is valued,” she testified. “It has done a lot of good. We have to remember those we have always tried to help, those persecuted for any reason.”
Settling into the US
The refugees often come from camps with no belongings. Lutheran Services partners with local churches to get a family settled. There are three fully-trained churches that are involved with the program. Four additional church groups are in training. Community partners work with refugees to learn English, navigate public transportation, enroll in school, and find jobs.
“They come from different skill backgrounds,” Evenger explained. “We have everything from a hair dresser to a computer software engineer. “
Families receive a one-time benefit of $925 per person through the program. Food stamps and Medicare are available if the family qualifies based on income. The goal is to get them started in their new lives so they can support themselves.
“Refugees are people that are trying to start their lives anew,” Bedrija Jazic, Refugee and Immigrant Services Director with Lutheran Services Carolinas, explained. “They are hardworking people that are seeking a better place for their children. That's what the United States has been offering for centuries.”
Lutheran Services is still looking for volunteer groups and churches to support the refugees as they transition into the US. They are collecting a variety of household items. They are also looking for partnerships with local churches and groups of at least eight people. You can reach them here.