Asylum in Austin
It’s no secret that Austin is a great place to live, but what’s less well known is that it’s also a welcoming place for refugees from around the world seeking political or religious asylum. Caritas of Austin hopes to change that with its upcoming “Words of Hope” speaker series luncheon event, which will be held on May 1 at the Hilton Austin.
The Speaker Series originally began “in an effort to highlight the issues we address each day with our clients – those experiencing poverty, homelessness and resettlement here as new arrivals from across the globe,” says Amy Jackson, Caritas’ director of development.
The featured speaker will be Luma Mufleh, author of the national bestseller Outcasts United. Mufleh’s own experience with the refugee community began when she became the coach for a refugee boys’ soccer team in a small town in Georgia. Her book focuses on the challenges the boys face as they adjust to their new lives in the U.S., and, according to Jackson, “the transformation of the kids’ lives with her involvement.”
In 2013, Caritas expects to resettle over 400 documented international refugees and their families, many of whom have recently come from Bhutan, various African countries and Cuba.
After nearly 40 years of working with the refugee population, this is the first year that Caritas is highlighting their Refugee Resettlement Program. In 2013, Caritas expects to resettle over 400 documented international refugees and their families, many of whom have recently come from Bhutan, various African countries and Cuba. In addition to taking care of basic needs like housing and food assistance, Caritas provides these newcomers with a one-week orientation course.
“It’s kind of a crash course in what Austin is all about, and how to not get in trouble here, how to meet new neighbors. Basically, how to integrate into the community,” says Jo Kathryn Quinn, executive director of Caritas.
Caritas also offers job training for its refugee clients and partners with an organization called English at Work to provide vocationally oriented English language classes.
“It’s unusual for a refugee to come speaking English,” says Quinn. “Some of the refugees come illiterate in their own language, so English is very hard to learn. But we have some partners that are creative with us in helping clients learn survival English, especially English that is related to a job that they’re going to get.”
“So we have a food industry and housekeeping training program,” says Quinn. “Our trainers have been trained by all the [Austin area] hotels to know the systems to use for the housekeeping and food industry. We have a really good relationship with the hotels and they love hiring our clients, because our clients don’t need training. We’ve already trained them.”Some refugees arrive in Austin with highly advanced degrees, while many others are employed initially in the service industry and work in local hotels and restaurants.
iACT for Refugees, a program of Interfaith Action of Central Texas, estimates that about 1,000 refugees are legally resettled in Austin each year. Jackson hopes that this year’s speaker series event can help increase general awareness of the refugee experience in Austin.
“We hope to better educate the community of their needs, and the work we do to provide a safety net when they arrive here — many with nothing,” says Jackson. “It goes without saying that Austin is a wonderful community for refugees to come… already we are diverse in our backgrounds and faiths. Refugees add to this fabric.”
Sponsorships and tickets sales for the “Words of Hope” Speaker Series event on May 1 are available through the Caritas event website.