September 30, 2010 STATEMENT — Sudanese Refugees Call on Congress to Increase Protection

Press Contact: Stacy Martin, Vice President for Mission Advancement
410-230-2847, lirspress@lirs.org

Sudanese Refugees Call on Congress to Increase Protection

BALTIMORE, September 30, 2010–Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) stands in solidarity with Thon Chol and Elizabeth Kuch, former refugees from Sudan resettled by LIRS to the United States, who will testify today before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. LIRS lifts up the voices of Thon and Elizabeth and all other refugees and migrants worldwide and urges policymakers to pay special attention to their stories and recommendations.

Thon and Elizabeth will share with members of the Commission about being forced to flee their homes at a very young age, journeying in treacherous conditions to refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya, growing up in refugee camps and transitioning to life in the United States. They will also share recommendations on how the U.S. government should better protect and assist refugees overseas along with ways to improve the U.S. refugee resettlement system.

LIRS is proud to partner with the federal government to resettle refugees from all over the world. Since 1939, LIRS and our nationwide network of 22 local resettlement affiliate sites and nine unaccompanied refugee minors programs have helped over 360,000 refugees of all ages, religions and nationalities rebuild their lives in the United States. Over the past ten years, LIRS has resettled thousands of Sudanese refugees. “The U.S. refugee resettlement program is an example of our faith put in to action offering hospitality and welcome to vulnerable migrants,” said LIRS President and CEO Linda Hartke.

LIRS specializes in serving unaccompanied migrant children and celebrates the blessings they share with U.S. communities. Arriving to the United States alone and without their parents, LIRS placed Thon and Elizabeth into the Unaccompanied Refuge Minor (URM) program. In partnership with the Department of State (DOS) and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), LIRS works with URM foster care programs in eleven different cities.

The URM program helps vulnerable migrant youth rebuild their lives and contribute to communities across the United States. URMs are placed into foster families, group homes, or independent living arrangements, appropriate to their needs. They receive case management, independent living skills training, mental health services and indirect financial support for housing, food, clothing, and other basic services. “The URM program is unique because it responds to the individual needs of children who have been orphaned or separated from parents with an excellent set of services that combines professional child welfare services with a high level of local community engagement,” said Susan Krehbiel, LIRS Vice President for Protection and Programs.

The URM program is also a good example of how the United States brings together the federal commitment to international humanitarian concerns with federal, state and local resources. The federal government interviews and admits unaccompanied refugee children to the United States and sets aside the necessary resources for their basic care. State child welfare systems provide oversight to these programs and dedicated foster parents, case workers, teachers, coaches, tutors and neighbors make all of these efforts a success.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Refugee Act which formally established the U.S. refugee program. Since the law’s enactment, significant changes have been made to the domestic social services system, refugee resettlement services have been professionalized, and there has been a renewed effort to use resettlement as a form of humanitarian action in protracted refugee situations.

Federal policies and resources are needed to ensure that the initial resettlement experience provides refugees with the foundation for long-term success. The first twelve months in particular are a critical time to address long neglected health or mental health needs, establish basic social and economic support, and enroll children in child care and school. To help refugees transition refugees from mere survival to rebuilding their lives, they should be given greater to access employment training and job placement, case management, health care, English language training, and other services that fit their individual needs.

To ensure a warm welcome to the United States for refugees and other vulnerable migrants, LIRS recommends the following:

  • Support robust funding of the DOS’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration and DHHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement to better protect and assist refugees overseas and those resettled to the United States.
  • Pass the Refugee Protection Act of 2010 (S. 3113), legislation introduced by Senators Leahy (D-VT) and Levin (D-MI) that would improve protection of refugees, asylum seekers and other vulnerable migrants.
  • Introduce legislation to reform the domestic refugee resettlement program to create a more flexible program that better meets the needs of today’s refugees and helps them successfully integrate and become full members of society.

Since 1939 LIRS has assisted and advocated on behalf of refugees, asylum seekers, unaccompanied children, migrants in detention, families fractured by migration and other vulnerable populations. LIRS is the national agency established by Lutheran church bodies in the United States to carry out the churches’ ministry with uprooted people and provides services to migrants and refugees through over 60 legal and social service partners. LIRS is a cooperative agency of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, whose members comprise over 7 million congregants nationwide.

If you have questions about this statement, please contact Eric B. Sigmon, Director for Advocacy, at 202-626-7943 or via email at esigmon@lirs.org.

Thon Chol’s testimony can be found here.

Elizabeth Kuck’s testimony can be found here.

LIRS’s World Refugee Day website can be found here.

LIRS’s statement in support of the Refugee Protection Act can be found here.

The ELCA report, “The Search for Peace and Reconciliation in Southern Sudan,” can be found here.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees refugee statistics can be found here.