OWENSBORO, Ky. (5/15/13) – Now in its fourth year in Owensboro, a long-running agency focused on helping international refugees find a second chance in western Kentucky has relocated more than 300 people so far and plans to help as many as 50 more families this year.
Located on 9th St. near Frederica St. in Owensboro, the satellite office of the Bowling-Green based agency Western Kentucky Refugee Services consists of a staff of between four to six people, and several of those were refugees themselves. Martha Little, Site Director for the local center, said it’s important to have people who have been through the situation on staff because it helps them find and encourage others who can benefit from the opportunity of relocating.
Little said the agency works closely with the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants to identify candidates who would be a good fit for relocating in the Owensboro area. She said the agency uses several criteria to select candidates.
“A lot of the people we review have been in refugee camps for years,” Little said. “They are getting away from civil war and poverty. They need a place where they can grow. We don’t take these people and direct them. We help them become self-sufficient.”
Little said before the refugees relocate, they have typically begun or completed citizenship in the U.S.
A case worker on Little’s staff, David Min, came to the U.S. from Malaysia two years ago, and now works to help other refugees from his native region.
“I’m not a refugee anymore,” Min said as he talked with SurfKY about the agency.
Another former refugee on Little’s staff, Ema Da, has been in the region for more than five years after leaving Thailand when he was 21. One of the hardest things to do for many refugees, the men said, was to leave their families behind. Some of them still have family in the refugee areas they escaped from. They said it isn’t uncommon for a husband or a wife to leave his or her spouse and children behind to come to the U.S. with the hope the rest of the family will be able to follow.
On June 22, Refugee Services will host a “Refugee Day” event from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Bellevue Baptist Church. Little and others on her staff said the center is in need of a variety of items, clothes, and volunteers on a regular basis, and the event will provide an opportunity for people who want to learn more about the program.
The center currently partners with several local groups, including Bresica University for office space and Audubon Area Community Services for assistance with other related needs. The agency is a 501c3 facility. It’s headquarters operation in Bowling Green has been helping refugees relocate for about 30 years.
Visit www.immigrationrefugeeservices.org for more information about the International Center of Bowling Green and Owensboro.
Photos provided by Nathan Johnson
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