Home at last

June 22, 2006
VOL 125 NO. 24
Home at last
By Claudia Mathis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Refugee Resettlement Services provides assistance to immigrants

Muhuba Hassan is in a better place today. A native of Somalia, Hassan and her family fled their country because of the mistreatment, torture and killing they witnessed during the Somalia Civil War.
The conflict began when Somalia’s democratic government was overthrown in 1969 by the dictatorial government that ruled Somalia up until the war started. Tribalism was enriched and the rights of groups or tribes who were not loyal to the government were denied. This led to the civil war that began in 1990 and devastated Somali.

When Hassan and her family arrived in Syracuse January 31, 2005, Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Services provided for their immediate needs, such as housing, clothing and food.
Case managers at the organization are responsible for finding families an apartment before they arrive, and insuring that it is furnished and contains enough food and supplies to last until the family receives food stamps and public assistance. The resettlement agency meets the family at the airport, helps them get oriented to their apartment and helps the family learn about their neighborhood.

Within the first week, the family is taken to the Social Security Administration and to the Department of Social Services to apply for a Social Security card and welfare benefits. The adults are also enrolled in the Refugee Assistance Program to learn ESL. The children are enrolled in public schools that offer the ESL program.
The classes for adults are taught at a former Catholic school on Park Street in Syracuse, and are managed by the Syracuse City School System. Attendance at the school also provides an opportunity for the refugees to socialize.

Caseworkers devote a great deal of time to the family, assisting them in becoming oriented to life in the U.S. The caseworker helps out by visiting the family, assisting them in filling out paperwork, taking them shopping and driving them to medical appointments. At some time between the second and third month after arriving in Syracuse, the resettlement agency begins the job placement process with the refugee. “The Bureau of Population, Refugee and Migration and the Department of Health and Human Services (Refugee Resettlement Services’ major funders) require our clients to be self-sustaining through their own employment for six weeks by the time they have been here six months,” said Kip Hargrave, Refugee Resettlement Services director. “Our job is to make them independent.” Many of the refugees participate in the Jobs Plus program through the Department of Social Services. The immigrants have secured employment at area hotels, hospitals and landscaping businesses.

“About five years ago, we made a major commitment to work with parishes and volunteers in the resettlement process,” said Hargrave. “These parishes and other volunteers now make up an indispensable part of our effort to help refugees. Without the help of people of faith, including some refugees themselves, we could not function. Parishes and volunteers furnish most of our apartments. They visit homebound refugees — sometimes for years. Other volunteers work in our office or run tutoring programs.” Brenda Casinella and Diane Pluff, who are parishioners of St. Mary’s Church in Jamesville, organized the resettlement of Hassan and her family. Casinella broached the idea of sponsoring an immigrant family to her sister, Pluff. “We thought it was such a nice idea,” said Casinella. “The next weekend, Kip Hargrave came to our church to speak about the involvement of parishes in the resettlement process. The experience of helping this family has been wonderfully moving and enriching.”

The parishioners of St. Mary’s have been there to help the family right from the very beginning. They donated furnishings for their home on Catawba Street, held a clothing drive and hosted a spaghetti dinner in February to raise funds. Pluff and Casinella continue to assist the family. Because Hassan doesn’t own a car, the two sisters take turns driving the family on shopping trips every weekend. “It’s been a gift to work with these people,” said Pluff. “They are a lot of fun. I’m amazed at the courage they have shown in bringing their families here to this country.”

In the process of trying to find a peaceful existence, Hassan and her family stayed at three refugee camps in Kenya over the past 15 years. When she and her family left Somalia, they walked 12 miles to reach the first refugee camp. “When we arrived in Syracuse, I was so grateful for everyone’s help,” said Hassan. “As a Muslim, I wasn’t treated very well where I came from.” Today, Hassan is very happy. “At first I was confused, but now I am doing okay,” she said. “I’m so glad that my kids can receive an education, we have food to eat and a house to live in.” Hassan finds it challenging to have to walk everywhere she wants to go because she doesn’t own a car. “I’m not sure about directions,” she said.

Hargrave said that Catholic Charities has been working with refugees since the 1970’s, when Father Thomas Fitzpatrick and Sister Judith Howley, CSJ, helped settle immigrants from the former Soviet Union and from Southeast Asia. As the number of refugees from these areas began to decrease in the early 1990s, Catholic Charities cut back its refugee staff, and by 1994-1995, almost left the refugee resettlement field.

In 1995, Felicia Castricone, the director at the Northside CYO, felt that refugees played an important role at the neighborhood center and decided to encourage Catholic Charities to expand its efforts in this area. At the same time, the United Nations was suggesting that the U.S. government expand its commitment to a different refugee resettlement effort. The United Nations wanted the U.S. government to take responsibility for a far greater number of refugee groups. Prior to 1995, the U.S. saw its role in refugee efforts as helping client population (groups of people opposed to governments with whom the U.S. had an adversarial relationship). The United Nations wanted the U.S. to resettle cultural groups from many different places throughout the world.

Since then, Refugee Resettlement Services has helped Cubans, Somalis, Bosnians, Sudanese, Iranians, Congolese, Ukranians, Liberians and Meskhetian Turks adjust to life in the Syracuse area. Today, the agency operates with a staff of 12 and 150 volunteers. Hargrave said from January 2005 through March 2006, 295 refugees have arrived in Syracuse. He is expecting some Burmese refugees to arrive from refugee camps in Thailand in the near future. Burma has a very oppressive government. Since September, 69 Meskhetian Turk refugees have arrived from Russia. They represent a unique combination of cultural characteristics that has evolved from a long and circuitous historical journey.

Over 100 years ago, some Turkish people slowly migrated into Georgia along the southern border of Russia. In 1944, Stalin drafted 30,000 Turks into the Soviet Army. While the men were fighting in World War II, Stalin’s troops forcibly removed all the women and children within three days and sent them by train and truck to Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. They were forced to learn a new language and to start all over again. Despite tremendous obstacles, they managed to develop the land and new communities.

In the 1990s, the Turks were caught between conflicting forces during political unrest in Uzbekistan. Twenty-five thousand Turks were forcibly moved to the region of Krasnodar in the Caucasus Mountains of Russia. The most significant impediment for the Meskhetian Turks is the hostile administrative authorities and the paramilitary Cossacks that harass the Meskhetians. The Cossacks are fiercely national Russians who have traditionally seen themselves as pacifiers in the northern Caucasus range for Russian authorities. With the downfall of the Soviet Union, the Cossacks in the Krasnodar Krai have been able to reconstitute themselves as a paramilitary force and view the Krai as their land and do not accept Meskhetians as residents, referring to them as guests.

Because the Meskhetian Turks lack citizenship and resident status, they are unable to fully access social services in Russia or work in formal economic sectors. There have been reports of discrimination in medical services at hospitals in the Krasnodar Krai for Meskhetians and their ability to access schooling is limited compared to Russians’. Their children have been allowed to go to school but have been segregated in some cases and are not encouraged to finish the last two years of schooling in Russia. Meskhetians have also been evicted from their homes because of a lack of formal ownership or documentation. Employers face pressure from Cossacks and authorities for employing Meskhetians.

Their mobility and future were severely limited in this new location, and they requested that the United Nations High Commission on Refugees find them a new place to live outside of Russia. The U.S. agreed to receive and resettle 25,000 Meskhetian Turks by 2006. June 30, Albina Bulatova and her three sons, Meskhetian Turks, will be marking their first year of living in Syracuse after fleeing from Russia. She and her children experienced discrimination while living in Russia. “Thank God we are living here in the U.S.,” said Bulatova. “When we were living in Russia, I took my youngest son to the hospital and the doctor that treated him said my son was a piece of garbage. We also lived in Russia for 10 years with no citizenship.”
An economist in her native country, Bulatova was unable to work in Russia. Her two oldest sons, who were 11 and 14 years old at the time, stopped attending school and began working at a gardening plantation.

Presently, Bulatova’s sons are flourishing in Syracuse. Within the first two months of arriving, both of her older sons secured jobs with Stickley Furniture. Bulatova said her youngest son is very happy to be able to attend school and to have enough food to eat. Bulatova found a position as a housekeeper at a local hotel but had to stop working for a while due to health problems. Both Bulatova and her two oldest sons have attended the refugee school to learn English. Bulatova said that learning English has been the biggest challenge for her since arriving here. She is thankful for the help she has received from her teachers. “The teachers were patient and they have big hearts,” said Bulatova. She has been working on her English with volunteer Rodney Parks for the last four months.

Bulatova is impressed with the kindness shown to her and her family. “Everywhere we’ve gone, people have helped us,” remarked Bulatova. “It’s unusual for me to experience such openness and helpfulness.”

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