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Giving refugees a fresh start in a new land
Jeffrey Kirk, local entrepreneur and refugee resettlement volunteer, spoke about his experiences during our meeting on Jan. 15.
At any time, there are 10 million to 20 million refugees in the world. The four largest refugee camps are found in Kenya; the largest there holds 138,000 people. The average stay in a refugee camp is 17 years. Many teenagers have spent their entire lives in a camp. Fewer than 1% of the world's refugees find new homes, Jeffrey said.
The resettlement process begins at the highest levels. The UN first certifies that the person meets certain criteria. The application then moves onto a federal agency. Once cleared, the refugees are then handled by refugee resettlement volunteers in the US.
Working with Lutheran Social Services, Jeffrey and wife Bryn have resettled eight familes since September 2001. They have come from Bosnia and Russia, among other countries. Aided by grants and donations, the Kirks first find an aparment for the refugee family. One early step involves applying for a Social Security card so the person can get a job.
They teach basic tasks such as using appliances and purchasing groceries. "We show them our lives," Jeffrey said. When possible, an area person of similar ethnic background is enlisted to help with the transition. Their goal is to have the person self-sufficient within six months. So far, three resettled families have purchased homes in this area, Jeffrey said.
Success rate for the program is "100%" Jeffrey said, because the individuals do not go back to the camps. "They become former refugees."