After a war breaks out, many civilians have only ten minutes to gather whatever they can carry with them before joining the crowds of people looking for somewhere to hide.
For those who manage to escape their homeland into a neighboring country, the process of finding a safe place to live can take years. These refugees are often stuck between countries – terrified to go back home, but afraid to stay where they are. Their only hope is registering with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and waiting to see if they can be accepted to a new home in a safe country.
In the meantime, they typically live in tent cities, with constant concern of retaliation from the government they fled from or rejection from the government in the country where they are temporarily housed. This is where, through your support, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service steps in and brings hope to an otherwise desperate situation.
Helen Molinaro and her team at LIRS work through 1,000–3,000 refugee cases per week and don’t stop until each case has been given their full attention. It’s a fast-paced environment, but they work hard to ensure every refugee receives the best result possible. Helen says finding the right solution for each refuge requires compassion and an understanding of the hardship they are facing:
Before I started this work , I had no idea what a refugee was. I had no idea that people lived on less than a dollar a day without running water. It has shown me how blessed we are. I took that for granted before.
On average it takes 3 to 5 years for a refugee to arrive to the U.S., but this process can be faster for people requiring urgent medical attention or those who are particularly frail. When LIRS is able to find a suitable placement, Helen and her team then handle everything from completing the paperwork required to enter the United States to booking the flights for people to arrive. Helen says some people are in very vulnerable situations while they wait, but LIRS does everything they can to offer protection in the interim period:
In some situations, money is being extorted, women are being raped, and so we push to see if they can be put in protective housing or help them arrive quicker. It’s challenging to deal with the amount of people in terrible situations. Their stories are so sad, and it becomes hard to separate my work from my life, to reconcile the two. We don’t realize what an excess we already have in comparison to those who are doing without on a daily basis.
The journey of each refugee is painful, but through the support of friends like you, LIRS has recognized their walk for almost 75 years – giving them friendship, help, and hope as they start their new life in America. Thank you for making this important work possible!