From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
CWS Welcomes First Somali Bantu Refugees
"Church World Service News" <email@example.com>
Thu, 22 May 2003 12:15:10 -0400
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE AND NEWS PLANNING
CHURCH WORLD SERVICE WELCOMES FIRST SOMALI BANTU REFUGEES
DENVER, CO & PHOENIX, AZ - 5/21/03- Global humanitarian agency Church World
Service and its partner agencies will welcome the first two families of
Somali Bantu refugees to be resettled in the U.S., this Thursday May 22 in
Denver, Colorado, and Phoenix, Arizona. The Bantu families' arrival marks a
new chapter in the life of a people who have lived in constant oppression
for almost two centuries.
The two families are the first of a group of approximately 12,000 Somali
Bantu that the U.S. State Department has approved for resettlement in nearly
50 U.S. cities over the next two years.
WHO: One Bantu family of five will arrive in Denver on Thursday, where they
will be settled by Ecumenical Refugee Services (ERS) of Denver, working in
coordination with CWS Immigration and Refugee Program (IRP) coordinators and
the Denver church that has agreed to co-sponsor the family, St. Francis
Cabrini Catholic Church.
In Phoenix on that same day (5/22), Church World Service partner the
Lutheran Social Ministry of the Southwest will greet another family of nine
Somali Bantu, along with a welcoming community interfaith group including
the city's new Somali Association and the refugees' host churches in
Phoenix, the Congregational Church of Tempe and The Islamic Cultural Center
and Mosque of Tempe.
WHAT: Church World Service spokespersons and local affiliate agency
directors are available for interviews prior to and after the Somali Bantu's
arrivals. Media are invited to make advance arrangements for visuals and
interviews with Somali Bantu individuals (via interpreter) within
approximately two weeks, after the new refugees complete necessary entry and
BACKGROUND: After almost two centuries of slavery, persecution, and
dispersion across Africa and the Middle East- and, more recently, a decade
of life in refugee camps- "the Somali Bantu come to us as a very special
group of people," says Church World Service Immigration and Refugee Program
Director Joe Roberson.
"The Bantu have proved their adaptability under all circumstances, but in
their early days in the U.S., they will need solid support as they adapt to
their new lives and a vastly different culture."
"That's the strength of CWS' network of faith-based and other community
organizations," Roberson adds. "It's the capacity and willingness of CWS'
affiliate agencies and local communities of faith who become hosts to the
refugees that help guide even the least acculturated through the system's
processes, then into the education, training and employment they need to
become contributing people in their communities."
CWS expects to resettle more than 900 Somali Bantu by the end of the
program, with about 500 over the next 12 months, and the first hundred
arriving in the next few months.
Up to 12,000 Somali Bantu were approved by the U.S. State Department in 1999
for resettlement in about 50 U.S. cities. However, following 9/11 and
tightened U.S. security, refugee admissions dropped from 85,000 in 1999 to a
trickling10,500 in mid-2002.
Caught in the squeeze, the Somali Bantu remained in suspension, living in
Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya during the past year. Many Somali Bantu young
people have never known anything but life within a refugee camp.
With a history of oppression and slavery since the 1800s, the Somali
Bantu -- a rural, agricultural people denied education- have lived at the
lowest levels of African society. From their home in East Africa, the Bantu
were traded on the Zanzibar slave market and scattered across Africa and the
Middle East. After slavery was abolished, the Bantu in Somalia continued to
be persecuted and work in subservient jobs.
During the 1990 Somali civil war, most Somali Bantu fled to Kenya, where
they remained in Dadaab Refugee camp for a decade- along with Somali
refugees who had been the Bantu's oppressors- while the United Nations High
Commission on Refugees unsuccessfully sought a home for them.
In 1999, the U.S. agreed to accept 12,000 of the Somali Bantu, moving them
from Dadaab to Kakuma Camp some 900 miles away. Considered one of the best
run refugee camps, Kakuma is home to about 80,000 people from various
African countries, cultures and ethnicity.
But the Bantu's arrival in the U.S., expected in mid-2002, was delayed due
to continued homeland security pressures on immigration. Now the U.S. State
Department has assured the first 1,200 entry and resettlement over the next
year, beginning this month.
Church World Service Executive Director Rev. John L. McCullough says the
global humanitarian agency is "pleased and relieved that the doors are
finally opening on the possibility of a better life for the Bantu."
But he notes, "We're still deeply concerned over the rapid decline in
numbers of refugees that the U.S. is admitting." McCullough says that
"admitting 12,000 of Africa's most profoundly and historically deprived
people" doesn't let the U.S. off the hook for maintaining its foundational
role as a place of hope and asylum for the world's oppressed."
There are currently 19.8 million refugees, 941,000 asylum seekers, and 20 to
25 million internally displaced people worldwide. And less than one percent
of the world's uprooted are addressed by resettlement programs.
Present in more than 80 countries, Church World Service administers refugee
processing programs in Nairobi, Kenya, and Accra, Ghana, through an
agreement with the U.S. Department of State.
A global humanitarian agency of 36 Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican
denominations, CWS works with indigenous organizations supporting
sustainable self-help development, meeting emergency needs, aiding refugees,
and advocating to address the root causes of poverty and powerlessness.
For more information about the Somali Bantu, the Church World Service
Immigration and Refugee Program, or its partner agencies in Denver and
For all interviews please first contact:
Jan Dragin/CWS Media Liaison, New York/Boston, Phone: (781) 925-1526,
Ann Walle/CWS New York, Phone: (212) 870-2654, e-mail:
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