BY Michael Nunes
METUCHEN — The world can be a dangerous place. With political turmoil, war and famine affecting millions around the world, the Diocese of Metuchen is hoping to bring dozens of people to safety.
On Jan. 6, the diocese announced that it would work to create a Catholic resettlement program in conjunction with the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops’ (USCCB) Office of Migration and Refugee services.
“It is likely that the Diocese of Metuchen will begin to accept refugee families in October 2016,” said Msgr. Joseph Kerrigan, pastor of Holy Family Parish, New Brunswick, one of the coalition parishes. “We anticipate that we will intake 12 to 15 families, no more than 40 people in total, during the first year.”
According to Kerrigan, this is the first time the parish has been involved in the settling of refugees.
In order to be recognized as a resettlement service, the organization needs to provide services such as case management, medical needs and counseling.
Many refugees are in need of counseling due to traumatic events they might have experienced.
“The counseling piece is important as many refugees have experienced significant trauma or injury,” Kerrigan said.
The Diocese of Metuchen is one of two Roman Catholic diocese in the state to participate in the program. The Diocese of Camden is the other participant.
According to Erin Friedlander, communications director for the diocese, the group expects the refugees to be from the Middle East and Central Africa.
“We don’t know for sure. While it is likely that some of the refugees who come to the Diocese of Metuchen may be from Syria, we expect they also will come from other places, such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Burundi,” she said.
The diocese still needs to be approved by the U.S. State Department before it can start accepting refugees. Friedlander says it’s likely the group should know by spring if it was been approved or not.
Refugees are protected by international law, U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees of 1951 and national law, U.S. Refugee Act of 1980. Under these two laws a refugee is defined as someone with a well-founded fear of prosecution based on religion, race, nationality or political opinion and whose government is unable to offer protection.
According to the Catholic Charities website, before refugees are allowed to be resettled in the U.S., they must first be referred by the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR), be part of a group the U.S. deems as having special concern, or be able to reunite with family. Refugees are also interviewed by the Department of Homeland Security and multiple security checks are ran before being allowed to enter the county.
According to Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration, the process could take up to two years.
“Refugees to this country must pass security checks and multiple interviews before entering the United States — more than any arrival to the United States. It can take up to two years for a refugee to pass through the whole vetting process,” he said in a press release.
“We can look at strengthening the already stringent screening program, but we should continue to welcome those in desperate need.”
According to Kerrigan, the organization hopes to being resettling refugees by October.
The Diocese of Metuchen is comprised of Middlesex, Somerset, Hunterdon, and Warren counties with 90 parishes, which could have the opportunity to participate in resettling refugees.
According to the United Nations High Council for Refugees, there are more than 10 million refugees globally.