Resettling Congolese Refugees — Perspectives from Lutheran Children and Family Services in Philadelphia

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LCFSinPA1According to UNHCR, there are around 15 million refugees in the world today. Some are fleeing conflicts that are well known and others, conflicts that are lesser known. This year, one of the ethnicities that LIRS is resettling is the Banyamulenge Tutsis. They have fled the lesser publicized conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Once a month, I’ll update you on the conflict and share with you best practices and observations for resettling the Banyamulenge Tutsis from LIRS partners.

For the past 16 years, the Banyamulenge Tutsis have been violently persecuted in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Persecution began in 1994, when fighting from the Rwandan genocide spilled over into the DRC. Since then, violence has been regular, and in 1998, the United States first began resettling Congolese refugees. In 2004, 150 Banyamulenge Tutsis were killed and 107 injured in a refugee camp in Rwanda. The United States began resettling the survivors of this ruthless attack in 2007. This year, more of these survivors are being resettled in the United States. Recently, there is hope that violence in the DRC is coming to a close. The UN has increased its peacekeeping force, and will begin to use drones to survey fighting.

Today, I’m honored that Janet Panning, Program Director from Lutheran Children and Family Services in Philadelphia (LCFS) was able to share the agency’s experiences, challenges and lessons learned from resettling Banyamulenge Tutsis. Among other insightful information, she mentions that congregational involvement is integral to resettling Congolese refugees, and lack of sufficient housing remains an issue for newly arrived refugees.

Clarissa Perkins (CP): How do you best ensure that Congolese refugees succeed in their new communities?

Janet Panning (JP): We are clustering groups of Congolese families in several geographic areas while pulling in congregational and volunteer support so that families and individuals can develop community support. We have hired a Congolese Intensive Case Manager, Jeanserge Kabengele, who is being cross-trained through our agency’s Family Empowerment Service case management program.

CP: How do you get local community members and congregations involved with and educated about newly arrived refugees?

JP: We have been able to engage both new and repeat congregations around the Congolese resettlement through spreading the word through multiple sources. Trinity Lutheran Church in Fairview Village has been instrumental in spearheading the effort to pull congregations together as we prepare for a cluster of families in Montgomery County. Trinity has connected us with an active Adventist congregation in Philadelphia that is connecting with a recently arrived Adventist Congolese family. Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Philadelphia provides temporary housing through a “Welcome Home” and has provided an initial welcome for families. We have a volunteer who is reaching out to other congregations successfully. Several congregations have assisted sibling groups from the Congo.

CP: What is the biggest challenge you’ve encountered while resettling Congolese refugees?

JP: Housing continues to be the biggest challenge for new arrivals, both Congolese and others.

CP: How did you overcome it?

JP: We have used a variety of housing solutions, including transitional housing, relationships with apartment complexes, and are exploring other solutions.

As we welcome Congolese refugees to the United States, if you have any best practices to share or questions, please leave a comment below!

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