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Agency marks World Refugee Day with update forum

Every quarter, the Vancouver Lutheran Community Services Northwest office hosts a forum to update people on its refugee resettlement work. Employees often refer to refugees as “global citizens.” The next forum is Thursday, which happens to be World Refugee Day.

Recognized every year on June 20, the global observance is intended to bring awareness to the plight of refugees. Lutheran Community Services Northwest is the only agency in Vancouver providing reception and placement of refugees — a program that’s served fewer and fewer people over the last few years. In 2016, the organization resettled 376 people, then 281 people in 2017 and 241 people last year.

Andrea McAllister, community outreach specialist at the Vancouver office, said this is due to the Trump administration lowering the cap on refugees admitted annually, from 75,000 in 2015 to 45,000 in 2018. (About half that amount were actually resettled last year.) McAllister said that this year the cap is 30,000, the smallest since the passage of the Refugee Act of 1980. Fewer refugees coming in means fewer people are placed and served in communities like Vancouver. It also means those organizations receive less federal funding and may struggle to stay afloat.

“We’re hoping to hang on and do the work,” McAllister said. “Awareness and support are really important right now especially.”

Lutheran Community Services Northwest, which is based in SeaTac and also has offices in Portland, is one of five agencies resettling refugees in Washington.

By law, refugee households receive 90 days of services. Before households arrive in Vancouver, Lutheran Community Services Northwest secures housing, furnishings and food. They meet refugees at the airport and connect them to services that build self-sufficiency including medical screenings, employment programs, job coaching, English as a Second Language classes, temporary cash assistance and registering children for school. This year, the organization’s goal is to resettle 250 people in Vancouver.

With limitations put on who can travel to the United States, most refugees are from the former Soviet Union, McAllister said. According to UNHCR The UN Refugee Agency, an unprecedented 68.5 million people around the world have been forced from home, including 25.4 million refugees; more than half of those refugees are children.

“That’s a huge number, and we’re doing the best we can,” McAllister said. “We want to the see the number of people we welcome increase. We know Vancouver is a place where people can thrive.”

The UN Refugee Agency says every day 44,400 people are forced to flee their homes due to conflict and persecution. More than half of refugees worldwide came from South Sudan, Afghanistan and Syria.

“We just want people to be aware of the crisis,” McAllister said. “People aren’t choosing this. This is something that’s traumatic and forcibly happening to them.”

Learn more about local refugee resettlement and the work of Lutheran Community Services Northwest at Thursday’s forum or online at

If You Go

What: Refugee Community Forum.
When: 1 to 2:30 p.m. Thursday.
Where: YWCA Community Room, 3609 Main St., Vancouver.
More info: Contact Andrea McAllister at 360-787-4726.

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