Catholic Charities Fort Worth empowers refugees toward self-sufficiency and integration

by Marty Sabota

North Texas Catholic

December 1, 2017

Shalaina Abioye (NTC photo/Juan Guajardo)

FORT WORTH — Several years ago, Shalaina Abioye, director of Refugee Services for Catholic Charities Fort Worth, provided a client with an intangible gift that affected her deeply as well.

“I gave him hope,” she recalled.

His home country was in far North Africa and not only was his family persecuted when he was a child because of their Christian beliefs, he was further persecuted as an adult because his name was the equivalent of “Jesus” in his native language.

“This client was experiencing extreme post-traumatic stress but was slowly able to regain his dignity and hope and move toward self-sufficiency and successful cultural adjustment through programs such as the ones offered here at Catholic Charities Fort Worth,” Abioye said.

Abioye explained that the Refugee Services division at CCFW consists of several programs designed to assist refugees and other vulnerable groups who have been forced to leave their homeland because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, social group, or political opinion.

“Other vulnerable groups that we serve are asylees, Special Immigrant Visa holders (Iraqis and Afghanis who worked with and supported the United States Armed Forces in their home countries), victims of trafficking, and Cuban and Haitian parolees,” the director said.

“The goal of refugee resettlement is to empower refugees toward self-sufficiency and to promote their successful integration into the local community, known as cultural adjustment,” Abioye said.

Last year 96 percent of the refugees settled by CCFW achieved self-sufficiency within six months, according to Heather Reynolds, chief executive officer of CCFW.

Abioye, who has served as refugee director for seven months, said the primary focus is on removing barriers by supporting clients with a safe and sanitary home, temporary cash assistance, English language classes, employment readiness and placement, cultural orientation classes, general case management, physical health services, and mental health case management with a counseling component.

In the federal fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, 2017, the agency resettled 459 refugees and special immigrants and provided services to more than 90 asylees and Cuban parolees.

“These numbers are much lower than the previous year due to a ban on refugee arrivals,” Abioye said.

In federal fiscal year 2016, refugee services resettled 644 refugees and special Immigrants and also provided services to many asylees and Cuban parolees.

“Children make up around 43 percent of total numbers,” Abioye said.

Refugee arrival populations shift from year to year depending on humanitarian crises at the time, she said.

Syrian migrants travel along a road after crossing into Hungary from the border with Serbia near Roszke, Hungary. (CNS photo/Bernadett Szabo, Reuters) 

Over the past few years, the majority of refugees resettled in the Fort Worth area were from Burma, Nepal, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Iran, Cuba, and Syria. Other groups also arrive but in smaller numbers from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Kenya, Pakistan, and Egypt.

“In support of USCCB’s ‘Solidarity in Suffering’ week, we would like to bring awareness to groups suffering persecution, especially Christians,” Abioye said. “As one can understand, individuals who have suffered persecution due to their Christian beliefs are very seldom open to coming forward to share their stories, even after making it to safety in the U.S. through refugee resettlement agencies such as our agency here at Catholic Charities Fort Worth.

“Their apprehension of coming forward is a solid example of the ongoing fears and trauma from the experiences they faced in countries where they were the minority.”

Abioye, who first worked in refugee resettlement in 2007, said another vignette that touched her was when she served a refugee family that was Catholic and from a country in the Middle East.

“They shared that for many generations they lived in peace and harmony amongst their neighbors who were majority Muslim,” the director said. “It wasn’t until a regime change in their country that they began to experience persecution, not by their neighbors, but by extremist groups who moved into their areas.

“Once resettled in the United States, the family had some challenges adjusting, mostly from their longing to be in their home country in the days where they could practice Christianity openly and live peacefully with neighbors of different faiths.”

After some time, the father of the family died and the family was able to bury him in a Catholic cemetery, not far from their new home.

“That brought them comfort,” Abioye said. “The family went on to become self-sufficient with one of the adult children being promoted to manager at an employer where they were placed by their employment case manager.”

In all cases that “have been served by Catholic Charities Fort Worth and other refugee resettlement agencies, our Catholic social teachings urge us to suffer with our clients by demonstrating sincere compassion and accompanying that with quality services, awareness, and advocacy,” she said.

In observance of the week of “Solidarity in Suffering” and at all times, Abioye said Catholics are being urged to share stories of the persecuted, to support agencies serving these populations, and “to be the voice for the unheard through advocacy, especially with our government, during the largest humanitarian crisis the world has seen to date.”

FORT WORTH — Several years ago, Shalaina Abioye, director of Refugee Services for Catholic Charities Fort Worth, provided a client with an intangible gift that affected her deeply as well. “I gave him hope,” she recalled.

Published (until 12/1/2033)