Respect Life Month
Refugees flee for their lives to Wisconsin
Most of the recent arrivals practice Islamic faith
By Crystal Delwiche
"Life is good for me here and I have felt safe," said Mohamed Hashi, a part-time case worker for Catholic Charities' Resettlement and Immigration Services. Hashi has been in the U.S. since 1999, when he fled his native Somalia. This June, he was reunited with his wife, Tasabeeh Elsadig Mustafa and their daughter, Onoud, who were also resettled in Green Bay through Catholic Charities
"People need to understand that we fled from the same type of thing in our own country and that they shouldn't judge us because of our religion or our nationality," said Hashi after recent terrorist acts.
Like many other refugees to the U.S., Hashi and his family were fleeing war. In Somalia, war started 12 years ago.
Nobody is quite sure when the term "refugee" was first used to describe the thousands forced from their homelands. This year, the Green Bay Diocese's Resettlement and Immigration Services expects to settle 60 refugees. Since 1975, they have resettled approximately 5,400.
"Many of these newcomers to northeast Wisconsin tell of fleeing before an enemy who were sometimes formerly neighbors, leaving homes, jobs, careers or farms, family members and friends," said Barbara Biebel, director of Resettlement and Immigration. "They hoped to return, but circumstances didn't allow it."
"Some refugees have been shot," she added. "Two recent arrivals from Bosnia visibly wear the evidence of their wounds. Members of one extended Bosnian family lost husbands, a son and several other relatives in an attack on their village. The men were rounded up and disappeared. Later, their bodies were discovered in a mass grave."
Much of today's work of resettling refugees grew out of work in the 1940s, after World War II. That war left 12.5 million displaced persons and Catholic Relief Services received many requests from bishops to help refugees. So CRS decided to do something in the United States.
In 1946, Fr. Aloysius Wycislo (later Bishop of Green Bay) was appointed director of CRS, stationed in New York. He worked with dioceses across the country to resettle displaced persons. Each diocese was asked to hire a resettlement director. (The first director in Green Bay, in 1949, was Fr. Thaddeus Koszarek.)
"Our department (CRS), along with the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, began to look at ways to move the refugees," Bp. Wycislo said. "We began to seek legislation to bring many of these refugees to this country."
Among the first efforts was the Displaced Persons Act (written with help of CRS). The act made exceptions for people with special talents or trades to enter the U.S.
"We began to accumulate mountains of affidavits of support for the movement of people." said Bp. Wycislo. "These affidavits were required by the government showing that the refugees would not be a burden on the United States. We had to make sure they had jobs and a place to live."
Then, on July 28, 1951, the Geneva Convention was signed by 26 countries. It was the first international agreement spelling out basic human rights and recognized the scope of refugee crises and the need for international cooperation.
"The convention explained that there are certain standards of how refugees should be treated," said Biebel, adding that it ensures escape for people facing imprisonment, torture and execution for reasons such as political or religious beliefs or membership in a particular ethnic or social group.
This year, 75,000 refugees will come to the U.S., with 5 million refugees worldwide. After intensive interviews and background checks, they will be cleared to enter the country.
Stateside, our government contracts with 12 Voluntary Agencies , typically religiously affiliated, to settle these refugees. The largest is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which works with local dioceses.
The Green Bay Diocese's Resettlement Program is designed to be a sponsor, along with parishes, congregations, groups or individuals, of refugee families. Sponsorship includes finding housing, employment, language tutoring and transportation. A major feature is to remove barriers to employment and provide services leading to early economic independence.
Biebel noted refugees' vulnerability.
"Refugees have known terror; most came to America in search of a new life and some for life itself," she said, adding that Refugee Services appreciates the "kindness and generosity of the thousands of people in northeast Wisconsin who have played a role in welcoming the strangers."
This welcoming effort is especially important in light of recent terrorist attacks.
"The Muslim families here in the Green Bay and Fox Cities area are all afraid right now," said Hashi. "They're scared to go out in public because of the reaction of people. One woman who lives in Appleton went to the grocery store and normally is welcomed with a smile and a kind word, but last week she was met with no smiles and blank stares. Families have decided to keep their children home because they are scared of the reaction of people."
He hopes people understand that terrorist acts are not consistent with the faith of Islam.
"The Muslim religion says that if you kill one life, it's like you killed all the people," he said. "Like any other religion, it is a sin."
Mark Franks is executive director for the Migration and Refugee Services in Washington. With the recent events, he says there will be many new refugees, persecuted in their own countries and fleeing for their lives.
"In the case of Afghan refugees, for example," he said, "many of whom are women and children, they have fled the Taliban regime... Because these refugees did not support their government's policies and were singled out for persecution as a result, they fled Afghanistan for their lives. "
Many of those fleeing Afghans are Muslims. If some come to Wisconsin, they will join fellow Muslim refugees already settled in our diocese. The most recent arrivals, settled this year through Catholic Charities, are:
Abdi and Farah Hawa Osman Hagi, arrived March 26 from Somalia, sponsored by Union Congregational Church, Green Bay. They are currently living in an Ecumenical Partnership Housing home. The family includes Ahmed, Sahal, Kamal, Mohamed, and daughters, Faduma and Sadia. The children are enrolled in school, while the parents work and learn English.
Hamzo and Plema Kurtovic, arrived May 2 from Bosnia, sponsored by St. Mary and St. Joseph Parishes in Appleton. The family includes son, Elmin, and daughter, Elma. They live in a Housing Partnership house in Appleton. This was a family reunification with relatives in the Appleton area. Plema is working at a local grade school cleaning and Hamzo is working part-time in a factory. They received a donated van so Hamzo got a driver's license; Plema is practicing for hers. Both are taking ESL classes while their children attend school.
Mersudin and Djulesefa Jusic, arrived June 5 from Bosnia with their son , Arnel, sponsored by St. Luke and St. Mark Parishes in Two Rivers. This was a family reunification with relatives in the area. They have their own apartment, are improving their English skills and looking for jobs.
Tasabeeh Elsadig Mustafa and daughter, Onoud, arrived June 7 from Somalia to settle in Green Bay. Mother and daughter were reunited with their husband and father, Mohamed Hashi.
Elmir and Emina Bajraktarevic arrived June 15 from Bosnia. Their children are son, Osman, and daughter, Elma. This was a family reunification in Appleton. St. Thomas More Parish is assisting them. They live in an apartment and are learning English.
Nusret and Jasmina Mujkanovi, arrived June 27 from Bosnia, sponsored by Ss. Edward and Isidore Parish, Flintville, with assistance from Assumption BVM, Pulaski. This was a family reunification case. Their duaghters are Zerina and Aida. The family has an apartment. Nusret is in ESL classes and has a job.
Sifet and Hurma Hodzic, arrived June 28 from Bosnia, sponsored by St. Luke and St. Mark Parishes, Two Rivers. Their sons are Mirsad and Abdulah. This was a family reunification. They live in an apartment and Sifet is learning more English and searching for a job. Abdulah is in school.
Razija Cikaric and Ziba Cikaric. These sisters-in-law and their children arrived July 24 from Bosnia. Both lost husbands in war. They originally settled in Green Bay but moved to Appleton to be closer to other Bosnian families. They are receiving assistance from St. Mary Parish, Menasha. Razija's daughter, Raza, recently passed her written driving test. Ziba's son, Mirnes, has a job cleaning. The families share an apartment.
Hamed and Rahima Husic, arrived July 26 from Bosnia, sponsored by St. Thomas More Parish, Appleton. This was a family reunification. They arrived with son, Hasib, daughter, Meliha, brother, Ahma, and niece, Amela. Hamed and Ahma have a job for a cleaning company while learning more English. Ahma has a temporary driving license and Hamed has his license. Currently, they all live in a 3-bedroom apartment.
Ahmed Hussein Sheikh Nur and Rahmo Nour Mohamed. Rahmo and the children arrived June 21 and Ahmed arrived July 30 from Somalia. Their children are Ali, Mohamed, Hassan and Hussein, and daughter, Hanan. They live in a three-bedroom townhouse and Ahmed works in a factory and is getting his driver's license. They will receive a donated car shortly. Hussein is in school.
Ibrahim Mukhtar and Shamso Mukhtar, arrived Aug. 8 from Somalia. This brother and sister live in a Green Bay apartment with a former refugee, attend GED classes and are looking for jobs. Shamso wants to go to college and be a doctor . Both speak and read English very well.
Edib and Snjezana Agic, arrived Aug. 21 from Bosnia. This is a reunification case in Neenah. St. Gabriel Parish is a co-sponsor of the family, which includes, son, Sanjin, and daughter, Sanja. They live in a two-bedroom apartment and Edib and Snjezana attend ESL classes. Sanjin was in grade school at Oxford University, so he speaks English very well. Sanja is enrolled in elementary school.