As we are approaching the anniversary of the Trump Administration's Travel Ban, NorCalPCA recently partnered with the Peace Corps Community for the Support of Refugees (PCC4Refugees) to put on a program at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. On January 9th, NorCalPCA invited the Executive Director of International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Northern California to share the journey of a refugee to the Bay.
Executive Director of IRC in Northern California, Dr. Karen Ferguson, shared her experience working with refugees coming to Oakland, San Jose, Sacramento and the Turlock/Modesto area. She began by speaking about the definition of a refugee, someone who has fled violence or persecution in their home country for reasons related to race, religion, nationality, political opinion or social group. She then went on to share that the current presidential administration has set a historically low ceiling for annual refugee arrivals, even compared to post-9/11 numbers. She emphasized that Northern California is a hub for Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) holders from Afghanistan, and that our numbers remain strong for refugee arrivals, while other offices may be closing their doors. SIV holders come with protection granted as a result of their work with the U.S. military abroad and often arrive with skilled professional backgrounds and some language proficiency, which helps them get jobs more readily. The American system of resettlement is employment-focused, giving refugees 90 days of case management and up to 180 days of employment services to help them get on their feet. The IRC supplements these federal programs with additional grant-funded services to support refugees within their first year or two after arrival to the U.S.
The Community Engagement Coordinator for the PCC4Refugees, Valerie Kurka, spoke about how Peace Corps Volunteers can get involved. She urged RPCVs to contact their local resettlement agencies, and noted that their are nine total in the U.S. Locally in Oakland, in addition to the IRC, there is Catholic Charities of the East Bay and Jewish Family & Community Services. Donation drives and fundraising to support individual families was highly encouraged and proven to be effective. The HOME program, standing for Housing, Outreach, Mentorship and Education, is one way that groups of individuals can support refugee families. HOME teams provide a financial subsidy to contribute to the cost of a family's rent, a home setup to install all items that go into a refugee family's home when they arrive, and a six month mentorship to help the family culturally adjust to their new life in America. The IRC emphasized that they have several programs that are able to direct support in a meaningful way and encourages individuals to visit their website at www.rescue.org for more information.
If you'd like to listen to the full presentation, you can do so at the Commonwealth Club website here.