Resettlement committee is ready for refugee family

Speak Swahili, or Pashto? It might be a help

With rent-free housing offered by St. Mary’s and goals met for fundraising and volunteers, the Refugee Resettlement Committee-Ridgefield believes it is ready to welcome a refugee family to town, and is waiting.

“We continue to await assignment of a refugee family to our Ridgefield group,” said Michael Rettger, co-chairman of the resettlement committee.

Rettger told The Press that the Ridgefield committee had sent word that it was ready to accept a family to Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services or “IRIS” — a New Haven-based group, affiliated with the Episcopal Church, that has been expecting to place about 400 refugees around Connecticut this year.

Asked about potential changes associated with the election of Donald Trump, who campaigned on promises to limit immigration and the flow of refugees from troubled areas of the world, Rettger said he had no indication what might lie ahead.

“We have not heard anything from IRIS regarding the possible effects of the election,” Rettger said. “We have no special insights as to where things might be headed.”

He added that the resettlement committee would continue working under the assumption that there will be “a continuing flow of refugees being accepted to the U.S. and needing homes and support” from local groups.

“In that regard, we continue to be prepared to accept and support a family when we are asked to consider a placement for Ridgefield,” Rettger said.

The local resettlement committee’s role would be to help a family set up here and provide support ranging from housing to English lessons, car rides and help with job searches until the family’s adults have found employment and are able stand on their own.

“Several things came together over the past six weeks that put us in the position to make this commitment,” Rettger said in an email exchange with The Press.

“St Mary’s parish last month made a very generous contribution to our settlement effort — valuable from both a monetary and a logistical perspective — by offering to lease one of their rental properties to the family rent-free for six months. The rental is the right size for a family of several children, and is central to town, which are some of the logistical benefits of this rental option.”

The resettlement committee has had success raising funds.

“We now have 70 individuals and families who have made contributions, and have passed our initial fund-raising target,” Rettger said.

“The initial goal was $15,000, based on an early funding model of helping a family of four,” Rettger said.  

“With our increased funding result, and the capacity of the house provided by St. Mary’s, we now have the capacity to help a larger family. We would still expect the family to be parents and several children, but there is also the possibly of another, elder family member (for example, a grandmother) when looking at a larger family unit.”

The committee now has a roster of volunteers “nearing 100” people who are willing to help.  

“We are currently working to link the volunteers with the various support areas like transportation, language training, and child care, to get everyone involved who wishes to offer their time,” said committee co-chairwoman Ann O’Brien.

The committee continues looking for volunteers who speak some less common Asian and African languages.

“We already have a good group of Arabic interpreter volunteers, and that is where we are still seeing the greatest likelihood for country of origin,” Rettger said. “At the same time, we want to remain responsive to the situation. If we can find interpreter resources, we might also be asked to host a family from Congo (where they would likely speak Swahili or a variant) or Afghanistan (Farsi or Pashto).  

“If there are people in the area who know these languages, or know of others who do, we would be interested to hear from them if they would like to help,” Rettger said.

After months of organizing, the committee is waiting for IRIS to assign a refugee family to RIdgefield. But Rettger said they’d been told all along that there would be “a few weeks to a couple of months” between the time they gave IRIS “the green light” and the time when the agency sends a family to town.

Rettger said there were a few possible reasons why it might be taking more time.

“There are now seven other local co-sponsor groups like ours in the state that are also ready to take an assignment, so the New Haven placement agency has more options than in the past when matching refugee families to a community,” Rettger said.

“Also, IRIS has seen an increase in the proportion of their placement flow, where the family has relatives or friends already in the New Haven area,” he said. “Where possible, refugees are settled in areas where they have other family or friends, so this means for the present that more of the newly arriving families are being placed in the New Haven area rather than with a co-sponsor group elsewhere in the state.”

O’Brien said that out of concern for the family’s privacy and the stresses of such a major adjustment, the committee expects to limit publicity for a time once it is near to having a family come to Ridgefield.

“We do have a concern that we want to respect the family’s privacy when they do arrive,” O’Brien said. “Even more than a typical family making a major move with children, this family will have many, many adjustments to make and it will undoubtedly be stressful.

“We want them to be able to make those adjustments at their own pace, as any other family moving to Ridgefield, and preferably not in the public eye, particularly for the sake of the children,” she said. “Thus, we want to go into a quiet period, in terms of publicity and press coverage, as we approach the point where we have a family arrive.”

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