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CHURCH WORLD SERVICE ASSISTS BURMESE, CHINESE ASYLUM SEEKERS WHO FLED TO GUAM

Photos of Burmese Asylum Seekers on Guam

June 11, 2001, GUAM – Church World Service is assisting 1,000 Burmese asylum seekers who fled religious, political, ethnic and social persecution at home and found their way to the island of Guam, a U.S. territory in the West Pacific. CWS also is seeking fair treatment for them and for 150 who fled similar persecution in China.

In response to advocacy by refugee agencies, including Church World Service, through its Immigration and Refugee Program (CWS/IRP), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has provided grants for emergency food and shelter, medical screening by the Centers for Disease Control, and loans for travel to the mainland United States.

A number of new asylees already have been reunited with family in the Battle Creek, Mich., area. The Rev. Duane Nieuwsma of the Christian Reformed Church in Battle Creek has helped organize community members to welcome the Burmese. Although the asylees live with relatives, they have needed financial support and assistance in finding work and English courses.

"We’re helping the community become aware and support them as they arrive," said the Rev. Nieuwsma. Battle Creek will welcome more of the asylees this summer.

Adi Abiose, an attorney at the CWS/IRP Miami Office, is on Guam to lead a CWS/IRP Committee-sponsored legal services project to help the asylum seekers.

"Neither government funding nor attorneys have been available for legal assistance for the asylum seekers on Guam," said the Rev. Wendy Pomeroy, CWS/IRP Executive Director. "CWS/IRP has stepped in to fill this crucial need by setting up a temporary legal office on the island."

With the assistance of Andrea Black of the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project and other volunteer attorneys and law students, Ms. Abiose will be the team leader providing assistance with asylum case preparation and review, and will appear in court for cases which are referred to an immigration judge.

The Guam Refugee Council, which was formed during a CWS/IRP trip to the island in January, continues to function as an ecumenical body caring for the needs of the asylum seekers as they await adjudication of their cases. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service participated in the January trip to Guam and is coordinating the processing, travel arrangements and medical screening for the Burmese.

"The U.S. Government funding alleviates the horrendous, overcrowded housing conditions the asylum seekers were facing," reported the Rev. Joan Maruskin, CWS/IRP representative in Washington, D.C., who participated in the January trip. "Previously they crammed one dozen into each bedroom in their temporary housing."

"CWS and all of its partners along the way celebrate the recent events that bring the asylum seekers one step closer to safety in the mainland U.S.," the Rev. Pomeroy said.

Current plans call for completion of the project, with all the new asylees arriving on the mainland, by the end of the summer.

-end-

Story written by the Rev. Joan Maruskin. For more information: CWS/IRP Washington Office, jmaruski@ncccusa.org; (202) 544-2350, ext. 24.

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