Evanston Refugee Task Force discusses new program, plans info sessions


(Daily file photo by Katie Pach)

Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave. The Evanston Refugee Task Force met Tuesday to discuss future information sessions on refugees for the Evanston community.

Elizabeth Byrne, Summer Editor

The Evanston Refugee Task Force examined refugee numbers in the United States and planned future information sessions for the community at a Tuesday meeting. The group also discussed the Trump administration’s current policies about border separation.

The task force originated at an Evanston city-school meeting in October 2016 after a large number of refugee families enrolled in Evanston schools. The task force includes members of city staff, local religious organizations, Northwestern and the school district.

NU political science lecturer Galya Ben-Arieh, founding director of the Center for Forced Migration Studies, attended the meeting with her team of NU students. She said the team recently launched Community Partnerships for Settlement Strategies, a new charity aimed at educating the community about refugees and providing sustainable housing and jobs for the people they help.

“We’re really looking forward to getting started with our pilot,” Ben-Arieh said.“It’s about helping people get stability in their lives.”

Ben-Arieh added that the program was just officially given charity status and will hopefully begin its pilot with a family from Afghanistan that is trying to settle in Evanston. She said COMPASS will need to meet with the family first, but they hope to start providing resources, such as a microloan, for future employment and education.

COMPASS is also working on compiling a list of resources, such as scholarships, and has started a free website with the resources through Northwestern, Ben-Arieh said. She said building a “supportive framework” from the Evanston community is key to helping all families settle in Evanston.

Some members of the task force advocated for a community information session in August instead of a day-long training session. Ben-Arieh said she wants to answer questions from people who want to take action and help but aren’t sure how or where to start.

Evanston resident Carol Nielsen is a member of the task force. She agreed with the idea of an information session for the community that would also answer questions about refugees and asylum-seekers at the border.

“We should have (an info session) about the current crisis at the border,” Nielsen said. “We have to move from focusing on Syria and Afghanistan momentarily because we are in a crisis and a lot of people want to do things.”

Nielsen added that her involvement with the Unitarian Church of Evanston and the Evanston Interfaith Refugee Roundtable is why she attends the task force meetings.

Evanston mayor Steve Hagerty, who attended the meeting, shared his personal experience with refugees growing up. He said his family helped a Cambodian family settle in the community and has stayed in touch with them through social media.

“I really appreciate all the work that you all are doing on the ground,” Hagerty said. “(It) does make it a welcoming city and a city that is helping people integrate into our community.”

Hagerty added that the U.S. is “a nation of immigrants” and the work of the task force is reminding people about how Evanston is a “special place.”

Ben-Arieh told The Daily she is excited for COMPASS to start contributing to the Evanston community and host more events like the planned information session. She said that many members of the community are “committed” to helping others.

“I’m very fortunate to be part of the Evanston community that has been really thoughtfully working to support refugees”, Ben-Arieh said. “They step up to try to devise creative and meaningful solutions.”

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