Fort Wayne's Catholic Charities, a nonprofit faith-based organization, may be called on to help resettle a larger number of refugees if President Joe Biden's administration succeeds in upping the number of persecuted people being admitted to the United States.
Officials from the group said in a news conference Tuesday as many as 62,500 people may be cleared for admission by the end of this fiscal year Sept. 30, up from 15,000, according to Biden administration statements.
The new number might double to about 125,000 during the following fiscal year, agency officials said.
Fort Wayne's Catholic Charities gets only a fraction of all new U.S. arrivals as one of the government-approved resettlement agencies. The group is the only such refugee resettlement agency in northeast Indiana. Other organizations extend some refugee services.
The agency had been working with 200 to 250 people annually about a decade ago, but that number has dropped to 150 to 100 recently, said Nyein Chan, the agency's director of resettlement.
Nationally, the largest number of recent refugees has come from the Democratic Republic of the Congo followed by Ukraine, he said. He added those who have fled Myanmar, formerly Burma, are “third or fourth” on the list.
But, because Fort Wayne has established itself as successfully resettling those from fleeing Myanmar, those refugees often find their way or are directed here – partly because national policy stresses reunification of families, Chan said.
The recent unrest following a military coup in Myanmar, described as a military coup could lead to more people leaving and seeking refugee status, Chan said.
Those people might be members of several ethnic groups or religions because repression now will likely be based on political views, not just minority status, said Chan, himself a refugee from Myanmar who came to the United States in 1994.
But refugees still await resettlement in camps in Thailand and other countries, he said. The process can take several years, so they won't arrive in the United States soon, Chan said.
He said refugees undergo layers of screening during two years and health checks before being cleared to come to the United States.
Catholic Charities provides orientation and acquaints refugees with the culture, helps them find a place to work and live and necessities of life.
“All are 100% documented,” Chan said of refugees. Catholic Charities works with refugees from all religions, not just Catholics or Christians.
Gloria Whitcraft, Catholic Charities chief executive officer, said there's a misconception the organization decides which refugees and how many come to Fort Wayne. That is up to the U.S. State Department.
The federal government also places stringent restrictions, including time limits on aid, on resettlement programs, Whitcraft said. She added the agency is grounded in the biblical principles of welcoming the stranger and serving those in need and follows government policy while not becoming politically involved.
Since 1975, beginning with Vietnamese refugees, the organization has served people from about 20 counties.
Volunteers assist with resettlement in many ways, including teaching refugees how to get around, move, shop and learn English. Some also assist children with their schoolwork, Chan said.