A Letter to the Editor: Protect Young Refugees

Our executive director, Angie Plummer, sent a letter last week to the editor of the Dispatch that, as of today, has not yet been published. Continue reading to see the full letter, which urges Congress to uphold the 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.


Image Source: Vice News

Congress Must Reject Rollbacks to Child Protection Law:

As the US government responds to the humanitarian crisis faced by children and families fleeing violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, both President Obama and some members of Congress are proposing to weaken important legal protections for these vulnerable children.

The presence of tens of thousands of refugee children at our southern border poses a legal and humanitarian dilemma. Through a rare act of bipartisan collaboration, both chambers of Congress unanimously passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act in 2008. This act, signed into law by President Bush is a critical American law that prevents the US from deporting children back into the hands of traffickers and others who seek to exploit them. It is inaccurate and illogical to blame this law for these children fleeing to the US. These children are fleeing escalating conflict, violence, gang activity and exploitation.

In fact, they are fleeing not only to the US, but also to Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Belize. These countries have seen a seven-fold increase in refugees between 2008 and 2013.


Image Source: The Wilson Center

The humanitarian response to the crisis is obvious. We cannot allow thousands of refugee children to be returned to exploitation, trafficking, rape and even death. Our country has always been a beacon of hope and welcome to the sojourner. Many communities throughout our country are helping to lead the response to provide care and support to these kids, with thousands of people donating, volunteering and serving as foster families to welcome these children into their homes. So, although the short-term response to the crisis is obvious, we must also look to the longer term to reduce the likelihood of such crises in the future.

This humanitarian crisis will not be solved at the border. It is in our own long-term interest to work with El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala to create conditions such that children and families do not have to flee for their lives.

This is not a US immigration crisis, it is a refugee crisis. This is a life and death crisis for children who are fleeing rape, violence and exploitation. Any parent who would risk sending a child on the dangerous journey to the US can only be desperate to save that child from something worse. We’re a nation of more than 300 million people. We can easily muster the moral courage and resources to protect children who are fleeing violence, rape and exploitation. How our nation responds to these most vulnerable children defines who we are as a nation. We must not fail them or ourselves.


Young Central American girls play games before bedtime at a detention center (Image Source: Center for American Progress)

Staff Highlight: Alex Alfonso

This summer Community Refugee and Immigration Services (CRIS) is partnering with the Columbus Foundation’s Summer Fellows program.  Launched in 2010 the Summer Fellows Program provides undergraduates and recent college graduates with the opportunity to intern with central Ohio non-profit organizations.

Columbus Foundation Summer Fellow Alex Alfonso

Columbus Foundation Summer Fellow Alex Alfonso

Alex Alfonso is our Columbus Foundation Summer Fellow.  He is working with us for ten weeks this summer in the refugee resettlement program helping to prepare for and welcome newly arriving refugees to Columbus.  Last summer Alex volunteered at CRIS teaching basic employability classes and helping employment counselors.  He so enjoyed assisting refugees in their initial transition that he sought out a fellowship to return full-time this summer.

Alex’s roles include picking up new arrivals from the airport, putting together home supply kits, and taking trips with clients to the Furniture Bank of Central Ohio so that they can furnish their new homes.  He also teaches cultural orientation classes for newly arrived refugees to help with the process of integrating into our community.

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Celebrating Ramadan in Columbus, Ohio

The image of lanterns is traditionally associated with Ramadan.

The image of lanterns is traditionally associated with Ramadan.

Every year Muslims around the world fast, abstaining from water and food, from sunrise to sunset during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar called Ramadan.  This year Ramadan will last from June 28 to approximately July 28.  Muslims mark the end of Ramadan with a day of celebration called Eid al Fitr.  Every day, once the sun has set, Muslims may drink and eat, breaking a fast that can last up to 16 hours in the height of summer here in Ohio.  They often break their daily fast with dates, the food the prophet Muhammad, Peace Be upon Him, is thought to have eaten to break his fast.

For many Muslims, Ramadan is a month of spiritual discipline in which they train their souls in self-restraint and mindfulness and refocus their attention upon God.  During Ramadan Muslims refrain not just from food and drink but also from bad thoughts, actions, and words.

Special circumstances can exempt a Muslim from fasting.  The elderly, sick, those on a journey, or women who are pregnant, nursing, or menstruating may break their fast and make up the lost days when they are healthy and able.

Sarah Taylor, communications intern for CRIS, sat down with two of CRIS’s Muslim staff members to ask them some questions about the month of fasting before them.

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CRIS’ Staff Bakes Kounafa (Busma)

An article by Sarah Taylor, Summer Communications Intern

For an all-staff lunch in June, everyone brought their favorite foods from around the world.  Alongside Nepali momos (potstickers), Ethiopian injera, and American fried chicken was my new favorite dessert, kounafa.

Kunafa Recipe

Source for this photo here.

Kounafa is a Middle Eastern dessert traditionally eaten during the month of Ramadan, but feel free to enjoy this sticky and sweet dessert any time of the year.  The savory dough and nuts pair particularly well with the sweetness of the syrup and the raisins.  I recommend serving it with tea at the end of a meal, preferably a meal spent with lots of family and friends.

Staff member, Georgina, was gracious enough to share with me her recipe for this delectable dessert.  Please see her recipe below:

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URGENT: You can stop cuts to refugee services!

CWS advocacy


As all of our concern grows for the children fleeing violence in Central America and seeking safety in the United States, we’ve just learned that the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) plans to reprogram $94 million from refugee services to meet the needs of these children.

Without additional funding, vital programs that assist refugees will lose funding. Refugee services are already underfunded, and these cuts would have devastating consequences for refugees and the communities that welcome them.

You can make a difference for them by urging our Members of Congress to ensure that the Office of Refugee Resettlement receives an additional $200 million to meet the needs of both refugees and unaccompanied children, for a total of $3.367 billion in FY 15.

Please call your Members of Congress today and urge them to substantially increase funding so that ORR can meet the needs of both unaccompanied children and refugees.

Here are the direct phone numbers and twitter handles for your elected officials:

Rep. Tiberi – (202) 225-5355

Sen. Brown – (202) 224-2315

Sen. Portman – (202) 224-3353

Tell them:

  • I’m your constituent from [city, state] and I care about refugees.
  • I urge you to increase funding for the Office of Refugee Resettlement by $200 million in FY14 so they can meet the needs of both unaccompanied children and refugees. The office has a shortfall and will have to cut services for refugees if Congress does not increase its funding.
  • The U.S. must show leadership in helping these children while maintaining our commitment to refugee resettlement. I urge you to ensure that ORR receives a total of $3.367 billion in Fiscal Year 2015.

Click here to find out more.

Thanks for taking the time today to speak out on this important issue.

CRIS is NASW’s Agency of the Year!

Article by summer communications intern, Sarah Taylor

Our new award, courtesy of NASW

Our new award, courtesy of NASW

The Columbus chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has just named Community Refugee and Immigration Services its Agency of the Year!  This is very exciting and humbling news for us.  We hope to be able to continue to serve the Columbus refugee community with the same passion and dedication for years to come.

For more information about the NASW and our award, follow this link: http://www.naswoh.org/?80

An Outing among the Roses


Nepali refugees with CRIS staffer, Sarah Miller

An article by Sarah Taylor, summer communications intern with CRIS

On a sunny afternoon in June, CRIS’s health caseworker for its new Refugee Health and Wellness Program, Sarah Miller, and a group of elderly Nepali-Bhutanese women explored Clintonville’s Park of Roses. With the bright summer sunshine streaming through the trees, the women strolled, laughed, and sang their favorite songs together.


According to Sarah the program works to “meet the health and wellness needs of newly arriving refugees in the Central Ohio area and assist in their successful adjustment and integration into the local community. We provide mental health screenings and referrals to services, alternative wellness activities such as dance and yoga, and outreach and advocacy with service providers.”

“Refugee clients are often not familiar or comfortable with Western approaches to addressing mental health such as therapy and counseling, so we have found it more effective to address these needs through different types of wellness activities. This has included yoga classes, music, community adjustment support groups, and outings such as our recent trip to Park of Roses. These activities give clients the chance to connect with themselves and each other, explore their local community, and have fun, all of which have been demonstrated both through research and reports from our clients to reduce feelings of stress, anxiety, and isolation that many refugees (especially seniors) often feel during the initial stages of resettlement.”

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