Church World Service, affiliate agencies featured in CBS Television refugee resettlement special

September 8, 2011

Hlwan Kip Tlem, an ethnic Chin from Burma

Hlwan Kip Tlem, an ethnic Chin from Burma

Update:  Watch Refugee Resettlement: Faith Communities Making a Difference here!

NEW YORK – CWS Immigration and Refugee Program Director Erol Kekic is featured in Refugee Resettlement: Faith Communities Making A Difference, the upcoming CBS religion special about refugees who resettle in the United States and the key roles that voluntary agencies like Church World Service and local faith-based agencies play in assisting them.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that in 2010 more than 43 million people were forcibly displaced by conflicts.  Many seek sanctuary in neighboring countries, living in cities or refugee camps until it is safe to return home. Those fleeing persecution can apply to live elsewhere in the world, but must undergo an extensive screening process and prove they are living with a well-founded fear of persecution.  Only one-half of one percent of those who apply will be resettled in a new country.

The United States currently admits 70,000 refugees a year.

Helping resettle those newcomers–working in cooperation with the Department of State–are a handful of voluntary agencies, including faith-based agencies like Church World Service, which since 1946 has assisted in the resettlement of 500,000 refugees throughout the U.S.

At community levels, a national network of local refugee resettlement agencies – many of whom also are faith-based – assist new refugees in integrating into their new communities and culture.

How that faith-based networks model of local assistance makes a difference in the lives of individuals and refugee families is at the heart of the CBS Television Network special.

Refugee Resettlement: Faith Communities Making A Difference interviews CWS’s Kekic, as well as Vincent Cochetel, Regional Representative for The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, who speak about the issue.

Recently Church World Service celebrated its 65th anniversary at the City Museum of New York. On hand were members of the faith community who have been instrumental in the resettlement of refugees helped by the organization.

Among them was Hlwan Kip Tlem, an ethnic Chin from Burma, who came to live in Indianapolis four years ago and knew only a few words of English. She recently graduated from Southport High School and won a fully paid four year scholarship to the University of Evansville. She talks about her experience adjusting to a new life in a new land.

Since its founding, CWS has worked with local affiliates across the country to secure sponsors from local faith communities. One of their affiliates is the Minnesota Council of Churches (MCC), which has resettled refugees in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area since 1985. Rachele King, Director of MCC Refugee Services, talks about their ongoing work and the interfaith organization’s vital role in providing a sense of community for refugees.

Last year, MCC created the Taking Root program, which pairs Christian and Muslim volunteers to co-sponsor a new refugee who has no ties to friends or family in the U.S.  “There are other methodologies but this one helps us bring people together in a really deep way… they really get to know each other over four months of working together,” Gail Anderson, director of unity and relationships for MCC, told CBS.

Refugee Resettlement also interviews volunteers from the interfaith co-sponsorship teams, as well as refugees from Eritrea and Somalia who are adjusting with the help of their new friends, many of whom are now like family.

CWS also is now providing disaster relief to those suffering from the current devastating drought across the Horn of Africa. Recent reports of hunger and starvation and overcrowded refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia, a result of the drought and ongoing civil war in Somalia, remind the world that finding a lasting solution for refugees is not an easy task.

“There’s simply no solution in resettlement alone,” CWS’s Kekic tells CBS. “Resettlement needs to be seen as a part of the solution, not the only solution, that we can offer the complex humanitarian emergencies such as the one in Somalia and the Horn of Africa at large.”

John P. Blessington is the executive producer and Liz Kineke is the producer.  The special is produced in cooperation with the National Council of Churches, Consortium of Roman Catholic organizations, The Islamic Society of North America, The Union of Reform Judaism and the New York Board of Rabbis.

The program will air on CBS affiliates over the course of a month, premiering September 25, 2011. Individuals and groups who may not see the program listed in their local broadcast schedules are encouraged to call their local stations and request that the program be carried.