To the Editor:
Last November, a meeting was held at the Bar Harbor Congregational Church, UCC with the goal of raising funds for the basic needs of millions of Syrian individuals and families in refugee camps in the Middle East and fleeing to Europe.
The meeting was co-sponsored by 19 religious, library, civic and other organizations in the Mount Desert Island, Ellsworth and Bangor area.
The event was attended by about 100 people. Some $3,500 was collected and distributed to four organizations as contributors directed – USA for UNHCR, International Rescue Committee, Doctors Without Borders and Catholic Charities of Maine Refugee and Immigration Services (RIS). Additional contributions are encouraged.
Gray Cox of the Acadia Friends Meeting was the master of ceremonies. Kathe and Al Simons of the Bar Harbor Congregational Church, provided technical and other support.
Moni Ayoub, a College of the Atlantic student from Lebanon, spoke of her calling to work with children of Syrian refugees in her village. She and some friends worked mostly with children, directing art and music activities and giving English and Arabic lessons on a daily basis.
Heath Cabot, anthropologist on the faculty of the College of the Atlantic, told of her firsthand experience of very young male refugees arriving in Greece alone with nothing. They were often fleeing violent situations at home and were placed in detention.
Aneesa Khan and Jenna Farineau, COA students from the Earth in Brackets organization, spoke about drought in the region caused by climate change that contributed to the flight of Syrians to Europe.
Hannah DeAngelis, assistant program director of the Catholic Charities Refugee and Immigration Services, located in Portland, spoke of the complex process of receiving refugees, refugee status v. asylum status and the social services necessary to welcome and incorporate them in their communities.
They are the one program in Maine designated by the U.S. State Department to resettle refugees here. Currently they have most of their work concentrated in Portland, Lewiston and Augusta, where they provide educational, housing, medical and other services to about 600 individuals who are primarily Somali and Iraqi refugees.
Due to the long time taken by the U.S. Government to clear refugees for resettlement because of security requirements, Catholic Charities Refugee and Immigration Services does not expect to have any Syrian refugees to resettle for at least a year, and then they would do so only within 100 miles of Portland because of the need to provide many services through their case managers.
At the meeting, I distributed information about organizations that provide services for Syrian refugees and their need for contributions. I also noted the bipartisan Graham-Leahy bill, S.2145, whose sponsors include Sen. Angus King, that would authorize a $1 billion increase in funds for refugees. I urge people to call or email Sen. Susan Collins urging her also to cosponsor the bill.