City beginning new program for immigrants and refugees

City beginning new program for immigrants and refugees
December 22
05:00 2016



Winston-Salem will be providing services to help immigrants and refugees through its Building Integrated Communities (BIC) partnership.

BIC is an initiative of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to strengthen immigrant communities around the state. UNC partnered with the city’s Human Relations Department to do a needs assessment of local immigrants that included surveys and public comment meetings. Various needs were identified, like transportation, education and health care access.

City Human Relations Director Wanda Allen-Abraha said the BIC program will offer a 30-day “pipeline” for refugees and immigrants entering the community, giving them a series of “crash courses” on vital local resources that will last about an hour apiece.

For instance, there will be courses prepared by various local agencies on resources available in public transportation, education and housing with translated materials for participants.

Partners in the initiative cover a wide variety of services, including Novant Health, Legal Aid and Second Harvest Food Bank.

There will also be a resource guide available online and in printed form at the various partner agencies. “It’s been something that we all agree is needed and we think will really result in being very helpful to those immigrants and newcomers when they come from their various countries of origin,” said Allen-Abraha.

She said that the program is currently being developed and will begin in the spring or summer. Also part of the BIC proposal approved by the City Council is the hiring of an Integrated Communities Liaison to assist in the city’s outreach to foreign populations in Winston-Salem. There’re also plans to add an option to translate the city website into Spanish, which will be placed prominently on the site.

Foreign-born newcomers will be able to refer themselves to BIC or other agencies may refer them. One of those agencies is World Relief, a global organization that the State Department contracts with to resettle refugees. Jennifer Foy, director of the group’s High Point/Winston-Salem office, said in the past eight years, about 600 refugees have been resettled in Winston-Salem. Most of the refugees are from Myanmar and others are from places like the Congo and Syria.

She said refugees often fear the police and government due to corruption in their own countries. She said BIC, which includes police and other government agencies, will help orient them and put them at ease in their new community.

“It’s a great way for newcomers in the Winston-Salem communities to become more comfortable with the communities they’re living in,” said Foy.

Foy said refugees go through an extensive vetting process by the United States government. The minimum time it takes a refugee to go through the process is 18 months with most taking 7-9 years on average. Governments on all levels are aware of refugees that are resettled locally. She said she has quarterly meetings with local government officials about them. They’re also entered into a state-maintained database and registered with the departments of social services and social security.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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