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Anita M. Silvestro, Membership and Marketing Manager for the Girl Scouts of Connecticut and a member of the Rotary Club of New Haven led March 8th's program. Anita was joined by Donna Lellis, Membership and Marketing Manager, Peggy Erlenkotter, Service Unit Co-Manager, Stamford Girl Scouts volunteer, and Scout Allison Tovar, a Gold Awardee, who spoke about her project on "Binge-drinking". It’s also GIRL SCOUT COOKIE SEASON! Scout Juliette Morris was on hand and very happy taking cookie orders! For more information visit: Girl Scouts of Connecticut.
Representing The Girl Scouts of Connecticut were (left to right) - Anita M. Silvestro, Donna Lellis, Peggy Erlenkotter, Allison Tovar, and Juliette Morris, with Club President Dan Morris.
To honor and thank this week's Program Speakers the Rotary Club of Stamford will donate a book to a local not-for-profit organization. Gold Awardee Girl Scout Allison Tovar (middle) autographed today's book, "Pete the Cat". Also pictured are Girl Scout Juliette Morris and President Dan Morris.
Books for Childcare Learning Centers - Books honoring the past few weeks' speakers were presented today to Marc E. Jaffe, (second from left,) C.E.O. of The Childcare Learning Centers (CLC) & Stamford Rotarian. Also pictured are (left to right) - Club Secretary Chris Farrugio, President Elect Alice Knapp, and President Dan Morris.
Photo by Alex von Kleydorff
By PAT TOMLINSON Stamford Times Staff Writer FEB. 5, 2016
STAMFORD — The Rotary Clubs of Lower Fairfield County hosted a community conversation Tuesday night to dispell many on the growing misconceptions concerning refugee resettlement in the United States. The event featured an hour-long discussion with Chris George, the executive director of the New Haven-based Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS), which welcomes 230 refugees to Connecticut every year. George, who has spent a majority of his professional life living in, or working with, the Middle East, brought some unique insight into the refugee crisis that is currently making so many headlines across the globe.
According to George, fear-mongering and anti-refugee resettlement propaganda can be traced back to a few misconceptions about refugees. For one, George believes that the very definition of what it means to be a refugee is slightly misunderstood. “The international law definition, which is the same definition that the United States uses, is that a refugee is a person who has fled his or her home country because of persecution. It’s persecution that distinguishes a refugee from that much larger category of immigrants or migrants,” said George. “A refugee is someone who was forced to run for his or her own life, because of their race, their religion, their nationality, their social group, or even their political opinion.”
George implied that by lumping refugees into the larger category of immigrants, a severe injustice is done to these individuals. These are not just individuals who are simply looking for a new environment or better job opportunities — in fact, he says, refugees will often try to “tough it out” in refugee camps, living in what George likens to “limbo,” for four or five years to try and wait out whatever turmoil it is that they are escaping in their home countries.
While many of the 19 million refugees worldwide hold out in the hopes of repatriation, oftentimes the conditions in refugee camps force a majority of them to either integrate into the countries in which they have sought asylum or to try and resettle in another country that will permit them.
In the past, George says, the United States had set the standards for refugee resettlement, allowing about 70,000 refugees into its borders every year, which was better than all other nations combined. However, he says, in the midst of the largest refugee crisis since World War II, the U.S. has dropped the ball because of misguided public backlash and the resulting political trends. “We’ve been shouting to anyone who can hear us over the past few months, especially to Washington, to bring more refugees to the United States. We have a vast network in place that can handle much more refugees than we are getting,” said George.
To anyone who would argue that the U.S. shouldn’t allow more refugees entry into the country because they could somehow be a security threat, George has a simple answer: you’re wrong. George points to the extensive and intensive two-year vetting process that each refugee must undergo at the hand of the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security in order for the government to determine the veracity of the refugee’s backgrounds. “The United States has the most rigorous screening process in the world. We are not admitting any security threats into the U.S.,” said George.
According to George, these investigations leave no stone unturned, and if there are any doubts surrounding a refugee’s accounts then they will not be eligible for resettlement. In fact, the U.S. tends to only select your typical nuclear families for admission — nuclear families that are particularly vulnerable to persecution. Even upon being admitted to the U.S., these refugee families will not suddenly be living on easy-street. Before refugees even get on the plane to come the United States, they must sign a promissory note so as to pay for their own airfare.
Upon arrival, the U.S. government will give refugees a one-time gift of $950 per person and IRIS will have an apartment ready for them in the area furnished with used and donated furniture, but beyond that these families often have to scrimp and save to get by. While agencies like IRIS can help to support families for four or five months, after that it is up to the family to make ends meet. While George paints a fairly bleak picture for resettled refugees, he says that the overwhelming support from states such as Connecticut gives him hope that increasing the amount of refugee resettled by the system in place is possible.
“Connecticut has probably been one of the most welcoming states to refugees in the past few months,” said George. “From all around the state… people have stepped forward, not just individuals, but community groups, churches, synagogues, mosques, Rotary Clubs, all have come up and said ‘we want to support refugees.’ ” George said that within a given year, typically only two or three groups would approach him about sponsoring a refugee family. In just the past three months, George says that he’s been contacted by upward of 60. “You hear the government and you hear the fear that a lot of folks have, but these refugees have been vetted extensively and have been given legal documentation. In actuality, these people are probably among the safest coming into our country,” said Jean Meyer, who is spearheading one such community group, an interfaith council in Stamford that is interested in becoming an IRIS co-sponsor for any refugee families looking to relocate to Stamford.
Posted by Daniel Morris
"Celebrating 93 years of service" - The Rotary Club of Stamford was chartered on March 3rd, 1923 with 20 members each representing a different classification. The Stamford Yacht Club served as its Summer luncheon place. Its first activities included a visit to Boy Scout Layout at Camp Toquam, Hunting Ridge, and an Inter-Club golf match with the Rotary Club of Greenwich at Woodway.