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posted: 2/1/2017 5:33 AM

Churches, relief agencies work to calm refugees' fears in suburbs

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  • This map shows the many countries refugees come from to World Relief DuPage/Aurora. This is the map as it appeared two years ago, before President Donald Trump's temporary travel restrictions on seven predominantly Muslim countries.

      This map shows the many countries refugees come from to World Relief DuPage/Aurora. This is the map as it appeared two years ago, before President Donald Trump's temporary travel restrictions on seven predominantly Muslim countries.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Heather Larson

    Heather Larson

  • Susan Sperry

    Susan Sperry

 
 

In the days since President Donald Trump's temporary travel ban on immigrants from some Muslim countries, suburban churches and faith-based nonprofits have worked to assuage fears of refugees already in the suburbs, some of whom are cut off from their families.

The suburban offices of World Relief, a faith-based nonprofit supporting refugees, have been abuzz with activity as employees field calls of concern.

"A lot of people are really shocked and concerned on the moratorium on refugees," Executive Director Susan Sperry said. "Especially those who had already have been approved and are just waiting on a flight to be able to come here and others that have family overseas."

Sperry said other refugees, particularly those who came from war-torn Syria and Iraq, have told World Relief employees the executive order has made them afraid to leave their homes.

"We are trying to put out accurate information as quickly as possible," she said. "Just so that people who don't need to be worried can be reassured."

Trump's order announced Friday severely restricts U.S. entry for people from seven predominantly Muslim nations, suspends all refugee admission for 120 days and bars all Syrian refugees indefinitely.

Sperry said she understands it was done for safety, but the two-year, 20-step process refugees now go through addresses those concerns.

"Refugees are the most highly vetted individuals entering the country," Sperry said. "Our hope is to work with the administration to make sure they know that."

Members of the Midwest Islamic Center in unincorporated Schaumburg Township are concerned about more countries being added to the list, as Trump and White House spokesman Sean Spicer suggested Monday, Senior Board Member Jamil Zara said. While most of the countries on the current list are in the Middle East, Midwest Islamic Center members come mainly from India and Pakistan.

South Barrington-based Willow Creek Community Church will continue to support refugees, Executive Pastor Heather Larson said.

"We still believe that the refugee crisis is the largest humanitarian crisis facing our world today," Larson said. "We will still hold our run for refugees this spring. And we will still continue to support our church partners around the world who are on the front lines caring for refugees."

Willow Creek will host a charity 5K called Run for Refugees at its South Barrington campus April 23. Proceeds will help refugee women and children receive therapy needed to recover from the loss and trauma they've endured, according to the race's website. Registration for the race opens in March.

Sperry said they have received support and offers of help from people outside the refugee community. She said an immediate concern is funding refugee services, such as housing and job placement and help with education.

Sperry said because their federal funding is given on a per capita basis, revenue falls when refugees stop arriving. The ban means their overall revenue has fallen 20 percent essentially overnight, she said.

"For us, it really stands to destabilize our entire service model," Sperry said. "The needs are too great for any one of those services to go away."

Anyone looking to donate to World Relief can do so on their website.

Vaseem Iftekhar, president of the Islamic Federation North in Libertyville, said the mosque has received increased support from the non-Muslim community since the order was announced. People have called and stopped by to express solidarity and empathy, he said.

"This is America. This is a beautiful country with beautiful people," Iftekhar said.

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