Written by Davida Brenda
With the outbreak of civil wars, terrorist threats, persecution and inequality for people in Middle Eastern countries, many have had no other option but to leave their homeland and seek refuge in cities all over the United States.
The region of the Inland Empire in Southern California, is just one area where refugees are being re-settled to start a new life; a life free from the fears and constraints back home in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
World Relief is a nonprofit organization that works to re-settle refugees from all over the world.
Jose Serrano is the refugee re-settlement case manager for World Relief Garden Grove, which covers LA county, Orange County and the Inland Empire. He said that within the fiscal year overall “we resettled between 165-200 refugees,” who predominantly come from the Middle East countries including Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
World Relief is contracted by the federal government to assist a refugee family for 90 days. Serrano explained what this aid in the 90-day period includes.
“Helping them at the department of social services, enrolling their children in school, making sure they get health exams, helping them get other relatives if they’re eligible for immigration pathway to come here, cultural orientation and making sure that they have a home,” said Serrano. “Overall, we aid them with the basic essentials for everything that has to do with living a normal life here.”
The International Rescue Committee (IRC), similar to World Relief, is another refugee resettlement agency that aids incoming refugees in a similar way. Martin Zogg is the executive director for the IRC based in Glendale, Calif.
By means of social, health, home and job services, “we insure that newly arrived refugees have the means to be safe and secure in their new homes, and have the foundation to become self sufficient,” said Zogg.
Although most refugees get citizenship after applying for residency one year after they come to the U.S., it is not easy for them to find a job here.
“Many of them (refugees) come here with high degrees, such as a doctor, lawyer or engineer,” said Serrano. “However, the U.S. doesn’t recognize these foreign degrees,” and therefore the foreign degrees are practically worthless for getting hired.
In regards to the re-settlement work World Relief does in the Inland Empire, Serrano said that the city that gets the most refugees specifically, is Moreno Valley.
“One of the reasons refugees like to go there, (the Inland Empire/Moreno Valley) is because rent is much more affordable than places like Orange and LA county.”
Zogg however, said that the IRC has re-settled Afghan and Iraqi refugees into other Inland Empire cities, including San Bernardino and Riverside.
Currently, there have only been Afghan and Iraqi refugees re-settled into the Inland Empire. However, due to the current outbreak of civil war and terrorist threats in Syria, both Serrano and Zogg predict that soon there will be a large number of Syrians being resettled into the I.E.
“The thought is that there will be an influx of more Syrians being resettled here (Inland Empire),” said Serrano. “We’re expecting a high number of Syrian refugees some time in late summer.”
Zogg also mentioned that there is currently a large community of Syrian Americans in the I.E., and that “despite the fact that we’ve not re-settled large numbers of refugees there, I think that the Inland Empire is a very likely place for resettlement,” he said.
“There is more affordable housing, and as the economy recovers there’s more opportunity for employment; especially the kind that refugees are eligible for,” said Zogg. “So in the coming months and years, our expectation is that we can begin to create alliances in the Inland Empire, so that refugees are welcomed and greater numbers can be re-settled there.”
Catholic Charities of San Bernardino and Riverside is another re-settlement agency located in and specifically doing work in the Inland Empire.
Maria Recinos, the volunteer coordinator for Catholic Charities said that last year “we
helped re-settle less than 20 refugees. Numbers are increasing this year, and we will help re-settle about 25 refugees all over San Bernardino and Riverside Counties.”
In regards to how the Inland Empire community feels about refugees being re-settled here, Recinos said that their organization has received a lot of support for their work.
“We have many volunteers, and people donating to the program. Overall the community
has been supportive and welcoming,” said Recinos. However, “that is not to say that we have not had a few people against it, but nothing to major.”
Overall, Middle Eastern refugees are leaving their normal ways of life, culture, friends and family behind in order for them and their families to live in a safe environment where they have every possible opportunity, free from war, and political and religious oppression.
Charitable organizations like World Relief and the IRC and cities throughout the Inland Empire are opening their arms to them, aiding and re-settling refugees seeking a new life here.