Syrian refugees: what can be done and when?

By Tracy Morrison
Catholic Charities Executive Director

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Catholic Charities has received many requests for information regarding how parishes and parishioners can get involved in helping Syrian refugees. Interestingly we have been very busy resettling refugee families throughout the archdiocese. We have active resettlements in five cities; Waterloo, Marshalltown, Cedar Rapids, Oelwein and Postville.

People are coming in from Burma, Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia. In the past six weeks we have resettled 33 people with the help of the social justice committees and volunteers in many parishes. We have certainly witnessed many of your corporal works of mercy, your faith in action. Thank you for your time, talent and treasures!

The Syrian refugees have not made it into the U.S. State Department’s processing stream yet.

The basics of that stream, which typically takes 18 months or more, are:

  1. Establishment of a refugee camp in a safe bordering country.
  2. Refugees can then go to a processing center for eligibility screening, security screening and paperwork. This is done through UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees).
  3. Refugees are interviewed and approved or denied refugee status. For the U.S. this is done through USCIS (U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services).
  4. The U.S. has set a quota of 80,000 refugees from all over the world to be admitted into the U.S. in 2015. Quotas for 2016 may be different and is somewhat dependent on the fiscal budget.
  5. Agencies like Catholic Charities, sub-contracting through USCCB MRS (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Migration and Refugee Services) are contacted and asked if they will assist in resettling particular individuals.
  6. Catholic Charities will accept a resettlement case depending on two primary criteria: U.S.-tie availability and location of resettlement site within the archdiocese.
  7. Since Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Dubuque has only two resettlement case managers on staff we require that the U.S.-tie be an immediate relative rather than simply a friend or acquaintance. The U.S.-ties are our primary resource for language skills and helping the refugee adapt to a new country, community, home and culture.
  8. Once an agency accepts a case, medical screening, travel loans and travel arrangements are made. This is done through IOM (International Organization for Migration).
  9. Through USCCB MRS (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Migration and Refugee Services) Catholic Charities is made aware of arrival dates and times.
  10. Catholic Charities then begins the core services process which starts with finding housing, furnishings, food, medical resources, school resources, if needed, and English language lessons. The core services list is long. We have 90 days to complete the list and report to USCCB MRS regarding completion along with the refugee’s signature assuring they have received these services. It is during this 90-day period that the help from parishes and volunteers is most important.

If you want to learn more about the refugee resettlement process please check out these links:

  1. Here is a link to a brief overview of the process
  2. Here is a link to the USCCB Migration and Refugee Services page –

And here is a list of suggested things parishes can do now while the process pipeline is being established:

  1. European Refugee Crisis: 7 Things You Can Do to Help:

We hope this helps explain the process, does something to ease the frustration of “we have to do something now” and provides some actions to take now even if they are not direct service type actions.


This story is provided courtesy of The Witness, the official publication of the Archdiocese of Dubuque.