Town group’s efforts to resettle refugees intensifies
NEW CANAAN — A New Canaan group’s plans to sponsor a refugee family are moving forward, despite President Donald Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order to suspend refugees from entering the United States.
“We are absolutely moving forward,” said Juli Kurtzman, a New Canaan resident who spearheaded the effort. “There will be a refugee family here.”
Trump’s ban suspends all refugees from entering the country for 120 days and bars Syrian refugees indefinitely, but New Canaan Welcomes is still planning on accepting a family when the suspension ends.
In fact, the local group actually decided to speed up their resettlement process when they learned about the president’s plan.
The group had been working with Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, a New Haven based nonprofit organization. Kurtzman wanted to wait until mid-February, when she would have organized volunteers and received more training, to tell IRIS to send a family to them. In light of the ban, she told IRIS the group could accept a family on Jan. 25.
“Even without the ban, the process of being matched with a family for resettlement could take three to four months,” Kurtzman said.
The executive order, however, has helped raise awareness for the cause. On Jan. 29, Kurtzman launched the volunteer program in which she was able to sign up hundreds of volunteers to help with resettling the family. The group also surpassed their $15,000 fundraising goal.
“In some ways, it’s a very, very, very thin silver lining, — barely perceptibly thin,” Kurtzman said. “It made people see in a way they weren’t seeing before.”
“If anything, it has created a huge and compassionate awareness,” she added.
Among the volunteers to sign up were New Canaan High School students, including the head of the Amnesty International club. Kurtzman, the mother of two New Canaan high schoolers herself, said the students are going to help spread awareness of refugees’ plight.
The volunteers’ efforts also extend beyond New Canaan. When Kurtzman heard of people needing translating services at JFK Airport after the executive order went into effect, she had volunteers with translating skills respond.
Given the high number of Syrian refugees who had been seeking asylum in the United States, Kurtzman initially thought that was who they would be helping. Given the indefinite ban on all Syrian refugees, however, New Canaan Welcomes is now planning for another nationality.
Kurtzman said the group has volunteers who speak Swahili, making bringing in a family from Africa possible when the 120-day ban against all refugees is lifted.
“In the beginning, I said it was a Syrian effort and when I contacted IRIS, they said ‘Nope, we don’t accept groups only accepting certain nationalities,’” Kurtzman said. “I just want to help somebody in need. My heart is breaking because what’s happening is so fundamentally wrong and cruel and arbitrary.”