A Somali couple with three children is seeking a new life in Minnesota thanks to a Catholic Charities’ resettlement program that cites a Christian imperative for its work.
“Now the family is together and thankful for their new home. While
they are learning about Minnesota and adjusting to the cold weather,
they have a place to live and food in the cupboards,” Julia Jenson,
Catholic Charities St. Paul-Minneapolis director of external affairs and
communications, told CNA.
The family comes from the Nakivale refugee camp in Uganda, which hosts 100,000 Somalis who have fled conflict at home.
The Catholic agency’s case management staff has helped them and other
refugees find affordable housing, helped their children enroll in
school, and helped them find English language classes and medical care.
“We are the frontline for helping them find a place to live,
establish a relationship with a landlord… getting them established with
basic food and clothing, helping their kids get connected to school,
helping them get connected to the available public benefits,” said
Laurie Ohmann, senior vice president of client services and community
partnerships at Catholic Charities of St. Paul-Minneapolis.
According to Ohmann, a refugee is a “stranger in a foreign land.”
They have very basic needs like a connection to someone they trust.
“I think that’s one of the first things we offer them,” she told CNA.
For Ohmann, the agency’s motive for refugee resettlement is clear.
“It’s an issue of human dignity and supporting their participation in our economic and cultural life,” she said.
She cited the principles of Catholic social teaching and Pope
Francis’ prominence in
“welcoming the stranger and working with the poor
and the vulnerable in our community.”
The agency helps refugees fleeing some form of persecution or
violence. Most people the agency has recently resettled have been from
Somalia or from the Burmese Karen ethnic group who are fleeing conflicts
It helped resettle 317 refugees in the federal fiscal year
that ended Sept. 30, while State of Minnesota figures indicate about
2,500 refugees arrived in the state from overseas from Jan. 1-Oct. 31,
“It’s amazing to me to see what they are escaping and also the
environment in which they’re living when they’re in some of these large
refugee camps,” Ohmann said.
Most resettled refugees already have some personal tie to the U.S.
Sometimes they can rely on these personal ties, but other times they
The agency has been working in refugee support since the close of
World War II. At present, the agency contracts with the U.S. Conference
of Catholic Bishops and reaches an agreement about the number of people
to resettle. Catholic Charities of Winona also helps resettle refugees
Ohmann acknowledged some Americans’ safety concerns about refugees.
“I’ve always believed it’s really important to name the fear, and to
see some facts that help place your fear in context,” she said.
“I know that people are very worried about the vetting requirements of refugees.”
She said part of Catholic Charities’ practice has been to help people understand the vetting process.
“If folks believe some of the hyperbole, they wouldn’t understand
that there’s been a lot of background checking before someone ever comes
here,” Ohmann said.
Sometimes refugees face challenges in integrating into U.S. society.
“Like other resettlement agencies around the country, Catholic
Charities is doing its best to help refugees get on their feet within
the first 90 days of their arrival to Minnesota,” Ohmann added. “Given
the trauma they've endured and the significant language and cultural
shifts, all refugees face challenges in making ends meet and in
adjusting to life in the U.S. for some period of time.”
“From our experience, most refugees – with time – become integrated members of our community,” she said.
Among those aided by Catholic Charities affiliates was Abdul Razak
Ali Artan, the 20-year-old who in November drove a car into a crowd at
Ohio State University then started to stab passersby before he was shot
and killed by a campus police officer. The attacker hurt 11 people, one
Artan had come to Dallas as a refugee from Somalia in June 2014 and
stayed in Dallas with his six siblings and his mother for about three
weeks before moving to Columbus, Ohio. They had been aided by Catholic
Charities of Dallas after vetting by the U.S. State Department.
Dave Woodyard, the Dallas agency’s president and CEO, said there was
nothing that stood out about Artan during his brief stay there.
“We help hundreds of people over the years and thousands are coming
to America through all types of different agencies to seek comfort and
aid and unfortunately bad things can happen in any walk of life and this
is an example of one horrific action,” he said, according to
Ohmann said that refugees are “the most thoroughly vetted and
screened people to come to the U.S.” and face the highest level of
“Any additional changes that might limit admission solely based on
national origin, race or religious affiliation would be against the
values of the immigrant nation of the United States,” she said.
“Catholic Social Teaching invites us to join in solidarity with
others who are vulnerable and to see them as members of one human
family,” she added. “Refugees have suffered tremendously. Our nation was
founded to receive the tired, the poor and those yearning to breathe
free. Refugees are yearning to be free people. They are source of great
opportunity for this nation and will continue to contribute greatly to
our country as refugees have before them.”