World Relief Durham welcomes refugees to the community

Durham is home to the Durham Bulls, Duke University, the Durham Performing Arts Center and American Tobacco. It is also the new home for many refugees from across the world fleeing war, famine and natural disasters.

They come to Durham hoping to start a new life, and World Relief Durham helps them do so.

“World Relief Durham is a Christian refugee resettlement agency that contracts with the State Department to provide self-sufficiency oriented and self-integrated oriented programs to newly arriving refugees in the Triangle area,” said Adam Clark, Office Director at World Relief Durham.

“And we partner with lots of local churches to provide volunteers, what we call friendship partners and good neighbor teams, that volunteer and commit time to be in the lives of refugees, befriend them and help them get to know their new community.”

Adam Clark, Office Director, is working at his desk juggling all of the tasks that go into maintaining the Durham office.Photo Credit: Lindsey Moureau

World Relief is an international nonprofit organization. They work to accomplish their goals by empowering churches to help their local refugee population. Clark says the churches provide volunteers willing to invest their time in welcoming refugees to their community.

The Durham office has been open since 2008 on Gilbert St. They have a total of three offices in North Carolina, and 20 others across the country. The other two offices are located in High Point and Winston-Salem.  The organization has offices in 14 total countries, as listed on their website. The Durham office focuses their efforts on refugee resettlements.

There used to be 28 offices in the country. However, according to Clark, an executive order from the Trump administration has cut the number of refugees allowed to enter the country from 110,000 to 50,000. Organizations specialized in refugee resettlement were forced to cut back on employees since fewer refugees will be coming into the county. The executive orders resulted in the loss of hundreds of American jobs according to Clark. World Relief was forced to close five offices nationwide.

Even with the executive order, World Relief Durham is still dedicated to continuing their work.

“We basically meet them at the airport and we know a couple of weeks beforehand that they are coming because the State Department lets us know,” said Clark.

“So, we know, for example, that in two weeks, we may be receiving a family from Somalia. If we know that, then we go ahead and arrange a church or a volunteer group from a school, or even sometimes a mosque or synagogue, that will set up an apartment with donated furniture and prepare a home for that family.”

At the beginning of every federal fiscal year, the U.S. Department of State decides how much funding they will allocate to World Relief. The organization also accepts private donations.

“It’s a national level relationship. So, the State Department contracts with nine different agencies in the U.S. to provide basic services to refugees when they arrive,” explained Clark. “The number of total refugees that are able to come to the U.S. each year is determined by the president.”

World Relief Durham has been directly affected by President Donald Trump’s executive orders, in regards to refugees, according to Clark. Some of President Trump’s key campaign promises were to ban the entrance of Syrian refugees into the U.S. and limit immigration. These now executive orders are affecting the refugee community in Durham.

Named left to right: Emma Grant (Resettlement and Match Grant Specialist) and Emily Montes (Management Intern)  are discussing their work with resettled refugees. Photo Credit: Lindsey Moureau

Clark stated that some refugees no longer feel that it is safe to let their children leave their homes. He also said that the refugees seem to be more afraid of political opinions more so than people.

The Durham City Council passed a resolution, declaring May 6 as Durham Refugee Day. The city plans to host a festival in downtown Durham to reassure the refugees that they are welcomed.

Clark says the progressiveness of Durham attracted the World Relief to open an office in 2008. The low cost of housing and willingness of local churches to volunteer were also major factors. However, affordable housing for refugees has become an issue in Durham with rising prices.

“Yes, it’s harder to find housing so affordable housing is definitely an issue we pay attention to at city council meetings. It’s an issue we try to raise awareness about with the churches that we work with,” said Clark.

Amber Black, a case management fellow, helps refugees resettle in Durham during their first 90 days. This includes helping with culture classes, signing up for social services and using public transportation. She discussed the importance of the culture classes held by World Relief.

“I’ve taught them before, but the refugees receive cultural orientation to the United States just to know general things and norms like the healthcare system, financial literacy, how to take the bus and things like that,” said Black.

Thao Nguyen, the AmeriCorps Preferred Communities Director, talked about the many misconceptions surrounding refugees.

“There is such a narrative around refugees that they are takers of the system. And for their first few months here, we do enroll them in things like food stamps and other social services. But there have been so many studies that have come out, especially ones we did. We did a small project about refugees in Ohio and in the long-term, that’s not the case. They do actually give back,” explained Nguyen.

According to the studies mentioned, many refugees are not on social services after a few months of entering the country. By then, most refugees have started to integrate and acquire jobs. The social services help them adjust as they navigate a new country, culture and language.

The World Relief Durham is currently assisting refugees from the Central African Republic, the Congo, Somalia, Sudan, Burma/Myanmar, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria and plans to continue to help more as long as they can.

Currently, World Relief Durham is working to bring in more refugees to Durham. The executive orders from the federal administration has put a hold on refugee resettlement.