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Congolese Refugees Learn to Live in US with Help, But for How Long?

'No Tips to Police' - Refugees Learn US Rules
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'No Tips to Police' - Refugees Learn US Rules

Congolese Refugees learn to Live in the US with Help, But for How Long?
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Mtabi Ebeula speaks softly as he remembers fleeing the Democratic Republic of the Congo with his family to escape the rebels.

“They were killing people,” he says. “I left because of them.”

Ebeula is a small, 57-year-old man who lives with his wife and nine of his 11 children. He is in a new home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The family arrived in the United States from Tanzania on March 14.

For 20 years, Ebeula and his family lived in a refugee camp in Tanzania.

Ebeula is a carpenter, so he did work around the camp. During that time, he began the long, difficult process to request resettlement in the U.S. Two of his sons also live in the U.S. - one in Texas and the other in Minnesota.

The Church World Services, or CWS immigration and refugee office in Lancaster is resettling the Ebeula family. CWS is one of nine American nonprofit organizations that are supported by the U.S. State Department. Their job is to resettle refugees across the country.

The Ebeula family after eating lunch in their new home in Lancaster, PA.
The Ebeula family after eating lunch in their new home in Lancaster, PA.

However, the Trump administration has reduced the number of refugees to 45,000 for 2018. The government also is admitting refugees more slowly. So far it has admitted about 10,000.

As a result, the State Department told resettlement organizations that they need to shrink their operations.

A State Department official told VOA the move will “improve efficiencies” and permit the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program to continue with less money.

Fewer refugees are ‘a big hit’ for nonprofit groups

The CWS office in Lancaster gets $1.2 million from the State Department for its programs. It has already removed some employees. Office director Sheila Mastropietro said six workers have been told to leave the office and two others were sent to different jobs.

“We’ve been in Lancaster for over 30 years,” Mastroprieto told VOA. She added that the office had grown to 31 people who support nine refugee programs.

Sheila Mastropietro, director, CWS Lancaster Immigration and Refugee Office.
Sheila Mastropietro, director, CWS Lancaster Immigration and Refugee Office.

Mastroprieto believes it will be difficult for CWS and other resettlement organizations to find employees if U.S. policy changes to permit more refugees.

She said that people move into other jobs and are not available to return to refugee organizations.

The Trump administration’s lower refugee number has reduced arrivals in Lancaster.

“In 2016, we had 360, and… this year we’ll only get 125 people,” Mastroprieto said. She added that in 2017 her group expected 550 refugees but received only 270 because of the Trump administration’s travel ban.

The nationality of those arriving in Lancaster has changed, too. In the past it was mostly Syrians and Somalis, said Mastroprieto. Now, the refugees come from Myanmar and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Citizens from Syria and Somalia are among those who have been barred from entering the U.S. under the travel ban.

Lancaster, PA where refugees from various countries, including the DRC, Burma, Somalia and Syria, have been resettled.
Lancaster, PA where refugees from various countries, including the DRC, Burma, Somalia and Syria, have been resettled.

With a population of nearly 60,000, Lancaster is a center of manufacturing, food processing and farming. CWS helps refugees find jobs in these industries. This is important because each refugee gets a one-time grant of $925 from the U.S. government to settle in. This money has to pay for housing, food, and other costs. Refugees must find a job quickly.

The Lancaster office gets jobs for 80 percent of the refugees, said Mastroprieto. She said that many times she gets calls from businesses looking for refugees for jobs they cannot fill.

No tips for police officers

CWS’s Omar Mohamed teaches the Ebeula family as part of a 90-day support program.

“You cannot give money to police officers or government officials, even as a thank-you for assistance. No money,” he warned.

A volunteer translates Mohamed's English into Swahili. They are both Somali refugees.

CWS explains the city’s public transportation system and helps the refugees receive a social security cards so they can work. They help children begin school. Working with the city’s many churches, CWS organizes English classes.

Lancaster citizens appear to have accepted the refugees who shop for fresh vegetables at the central market in downtown.

Meck’s Market manager Bruce Markey welcomes them.

“I think it’s wonderful for us as a city. I think it brings many cultures together…If you can’t open your arms to people that need it, then what’s the point, honestly?"

Other residents are less pleased. Anne Flynn, who also works at the market, likes the refugee resettlement system, but adds “I have no problem with people coming, as long as they want to live like Americans.”

It is estimated that 65 million people are living as refugees around the world. Mastroprieto believes America should not forget its policy of resettling people fleeing war and persecution.

For the Ebeula family coming to Lancaster offers a fresh start after living for years in a refugee camp.

“This is my new country now,” Ebeula says.

I’m Susan Shand.

And I'm Dorothy Gundy.

Bill Rogers reported this story for VOA News. Susan Shand adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.


Words in This Story

carpentern. one who works making or fixing wooden objects or wooden parts of buildings

efficiency n. the ability to do something or produce something without wasting materials, time, or energy

translatev. to explain one language into another language

manager – n. one who controls people and things at an office or store

persecution n. the practice treating someone badly because of race or religious or political beliefs

ancestryn. the people who were in your family in past times