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CWS Offers Some Details On Poughkeepsie Refugee Resettlement

Church World Service held a public meeting Thursday night in Poughkeepsie to offer some details about a refugee resettlement program for the mid-Hudson Valley set to begin early next year. Following a presentation, some residents raised questions and concerns.

Church World Service is a global humanitarian organization and one of nine resettlement agencies that contracts with the federal government to resettle refugees across the country. Church World Service expects 80 individuals to relocate within a 50-mile radius of Poughkeepsie between January and September next year and is seeking an office in the city along with an office director. Sarah Krause is senior director for programs at Church World Service’s Immigration and Refugee Program. She says for the Poughkeepsie region, a priority is being placed on Congolese and Syrian refugees as well as Iraqis with special immigrant visas.

“This is something that we are excited to move forward with the community on and we’re going to do that, including continuous community consultations. It’s important that the community feel a part of this process,” Krause says. “Again, I’m saddened to hear that people feel as though this was sprung on them. That certainly wasn’t our intention. And, again, we believe that we’ve been very intentional in communicating throughout. We hope that now that this information has been shared with the community that folks can have an opportunity to kind of wrap their minds and their hearts around it and that we’ll be able move forward in a really positive direction.”

She says her organization has been in talks with stakeholders in Poughkeepsie since April. However, many community members and some elected officials say they’ve just learned about the Poughkeepsie program in the past week or two. Steven Planck, a city resident and business owner, says all should have been involved in discussions before a decision was reached.

“I think it’s extremely undemocratic and I do not appreciate the veil of secrecy under which these organizations are operating,” Planck says.

Planck is calling on elected officials to get some answers, such as to refugees’ impact on services.

“I’m asking all of them to join forces and write a simple letter that says, hey, we need to put the brakes on here, slow down,” says Planck. “Let’s get some answers to these very basic questions prior to the refugees being relocated here.”

Fishkill resident Marianne Ferraro just returned from a trip to Jordan.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Ferraro says. “I understand the issues people have here. I don’t minimize them. I think they are real.”

She says there are those in the community, like herself, who support refugee resettlement in the area and look forward to offering services and support. The situation has been clouded by misinformation. Krause tried to set the record straight by saying the Poughkeepsie office is not a Syrian refugee resettlement office but simply a refugee resettlement office and that refugees are the most vetted of any group coming to the United States. Refugees will be taxpayers as well. Gavin Eier is a student veteran at Vassar College helping with the refugee program.

“If helping refugees isn’t your thing, don’t, but don’t hamper it. That’s the only thing I would ask,” Eier says. “This is definitely something where everybody has unlimited amounts of kindness but they only have so much time, and if you want to put your time into something that’s not refugees, I fully support it, I don’t hold it against you, just please don’t stop it. There’s support here. There’s community here. People want to put time and money in.”

Clinton Corners resident Anthony Fiesel believes any assistance should go to Hudson Valley residents in need.

“It’s not that I’m, my heart doesn’t go out to people who are in bad shape and have very little or have nothing but how did that all of a sudden become our responsibility here in the Hudson Valley,” Fiesel says. “And how is it that we can just open our doors to, it’s 80 this year. What is it next year, 500?”  

Church World Service Poughkeepsie will offer refugees assistance in such areas as basic needs, cultural orientation, job preparation and placement and access to healthcare. City of Poughkeepsie resident Alina Gonzalez says that while she sees the issues brought up by others, such as food insecurity or the scarcity of jobs in the community, those issues have been longstanding and there is room to help refugees.

“And I feel as if people should open up their hearts a little bit more considering that these people that are coming from these countries,  it’s not a matter of food or jobs, it’s a matter of surviving, of being able to actually continue to actually live. It’s a matter of life and death.”

She adds:

“So I look forward to helping, I can’t wait,” Gonzalez says. “I want to help in any capacity that I can.”

It remains to be seen what President-elect Donald Trump, who supports a ban on admitting refugees from countries linked to terrorism, will do. The weekend before Election Day, Trump said that, as president, he would not admit refugees without the support of the local community where they are being placed. He has also mentioned a regime of “extreme, extreme vetting.”  

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