Tuesday, April 27, 1999

Eight religious groups in the Tristate extend welcoming hand and help

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        At least eight Tristate religious groups are interested in sponsoring ethnic Albanian refugees driven from Kosovo and encamped in Macedonia.

        The United States has pledged to take 20,000 refugees of the more than 100,000 now in Macedonia.

        U.S. officials would prefer to reunite refugees with family members already here, but an official with Catholic Social Services of Southwestern Ohio said Monday there are not enough relatives in this coun try to accommodate 20,000 ethnic Albanians.

        That's why the group, like many across the nation, is trying to line up nonfamily groups to serve as sponsors for displaced Kosovars who could arrive here in a little more than a month.

        Rod Huber, director of Family Services at Catholic Social Services, put out a call to 900 Tristate religious organizations last week seeking sponsors, and eight groups already have responded. Many individuals in those groups, like the groups themselves, have spon sored refugees brought here previously by Catholic Social Services — several thousand since 1975.

        The U.S. government will give priority to relatives — mother, father, son, daughter, aunt, uncle, nephew, niece or first cousin.

        “For the government to wake up and realize there are the relatives here, that will probably take a month,” Mr. Huber said of the refugee situation. “We're looking for groups because these people will need everything. If they step off the plane with a suit case, that's a lot.”

        Many faith communities collaborate in the sponsorship of refugees, which falls into four major ministries, he said:

        • Welcome Ministry. Provides reception for refugees at airport and gathers a welcome kit of immediate necessities.

        • Orientation Ministry. As sists with applications, appointments, transportation, tutoring and cultural information.

        • Household Ministry. Collects and stores donated items needed by refugee families, such as kitchen utensils, furniture and linens.

        • Housing Ministry. Assists in locating and providing housing either in a church building or by paying rent for an apartment.

        Refugee experts at Catholic Social Services work closely with refugee sponsors, providing training and regular contact after refugees arrive.

        Refugees continued Monday to flow out of Kosovo, with about 3,000 crossing into Macedonia. Most arrived by train and were put in a camp near the no-man's land between Macedonia and Yugoslavia.

        More than 600,000 refugees have fled Kosovo over the past month — 360,000 to Albania and the remainder to Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

        The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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