by Jordan Coleman | Staff Writer
Sixty-five people including Whitworth and Gonzaga students, World Relief employees and volunteers and family members of incoming refugees stood in front of the terminal gates at the Spokane International Airport on Thursday, Sept. 28 as Spokane welcomed four refugees from Moldova into the community.
As they waited for the refugees to come around the corner, the families stood in a line in front of the gate holding colorful bouquets of flowers. They looked at the banners and large groups of people with smiles on their faces as everyone waited to welcome their loved ones for their long-awaited reunion.
Bringing and resettling refugees is a rigorous process said digital communications assistant for World Relief Spokane Andrew Goodwin. The resettlement process is over an 18 month to three year time span and is broken up into two parts: before coming to America and the arrival. Goodwin provides information on the pre-arrival of the refugees into the United States and the post-arrival process.
The refugees are required to prove that they were forced to leave their home country for a fear of persecution, as well as they must prove that they are the people they claim to represent. They will then be evaluated by eight federal governments, go through five background checks, have three face-face interviews and be entered into six security databases. Once these procedures are completed, the refugees are cleared to be resettled and are given the necessary resources to come to the United States.
Once they are approved to travel, they enroll in English classes, look for jobs, find apartments and are assimilated into the community within 30 to 90 days.
The event was seen as a milestone for Spokane, showing the empathy and compassion that the city has for people of different backgrounds and cultures, sophomore Aubrey Miles said.
“International students in general and refugees enhance diversity and the student body becomes more diverse through different backgrounds, ethnicities and orientations which affects the overall campus community and welcoming atmosphere” sophomore Bryn Redal said before the event.
The students of different schools huddled in a circle talking with each other about their excitement and intentions for being there.
“I think that being apart of this event promotes the Christian identity and inclusion that Whitworth provides,” sophomore Abby Muelheim said.
Some students were there for support as they had similar experiences with traveling from other countries as well.
“I’m excited to see and help them feel welcome because as an international student myself, I know how hard it is to come to a new place,” freshman Sine Tenza said.
Although World Relief has hosted several welcoming events for refugees coming to Spokane, each refugee arrival is different in some way, Goodwin said.
“Each refugee is unique in the way that they express what it’s like to be here,” he said. “Each family is different in the way that they greet their refugees and I think that having a big group of people there who are Americans to greet them, really makes it special for them because it lets them know that they are welcome and valued in a community which had not met them until tonight.”
The event has a strong impact on the refugees as life is hard in Moldova and they are hoping to start over and experience a better life by reuniting with their families, executive director Mark Finney said. Yet, many of the attendants said the event was meaningful for them as well.
“It’s a chance for us to receive the gift of us as a community receiving them as a family,” senior Dylan Reyes said. “It was stirring for my soul to see this family’s life change and to a part of it, even just by witnessing it.”
Although the World Relief program viewed the event as a success, after the event executive director Mark Finney shared some concerns with the welcome crowd that he has for the future.
“There are a lot of things going on right now that are discouraging refugees from coming to the United States,” he said. “Your presence here means the world. It makes a statement of Spokane and the state of Washington.”
Goodwin is familiar with working with refugees as during his internship he shared an office with the resettlement staff who personally worked with refugees intensely over the first 90 days when they arrive to Spokane.
“I would see people in my office, get to know who they were,” he said. “Sometimes we would communicate with English, and some didn’t, and we would communicate with hugs and high fives.”
The World Relief employees and volunteers have several duties when it comes to the refugee process. However, welcoming the refugees at the airport is Goodwin’s favorite part of what he does.
Through the World Relief Spokane organization, the city has helped to receive and resettle 10,000 refugees over the past 25 years.
“What makes the arrival so special is seeing the way that the Christian faith of myself and my coworkers in World Relief makes a difference,” he said. “We are not able to resettle every refugee but I think it reminds me what it looks like to see God at work.”
There are many stigmas that accompany refugees, yet being a part of this interaction will destroy those stigmas said Reyes.
“Once you get to know refugees, it’s hard not to love them,” Goodwin said. “They are an incredibly selfless, loving group of people.”