Refugee Services

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Refugee Services Program

Catholic Charities’ Refugee Program has been assisting refugees since the 1940s, helping over 10,000 people make Oregon their new home. We promote successful integration into American society while maintaining the respect and dignity of each individual and their unique culture and traditions.

From greeting new refugees at the airport to providing cultural orientation and case management support, we get refugees started on the path to rebuilding their lives in a new place. To accomplish this, we secure safe housing, furnishings, food, and clothing and refer individuals and families to agencies that provide social security cards, cash assistance, food stamps, medical screenings and health care, English language instruction, and job training.

Refugees have endured great hardship — sometimes for many years — before they arrive in the U.S. Often they are fleeing war and persecution and were forced to leave a full life behind, including family, friends, and most of their possessions. Meeting their basic needs and providing initial services lays the foundation for refugees to achieve self-sufficiency once again.

Refugee Services depends on volunteers and donations to make our program a success. Volunteers are a bridge to the community and a connection that lasts far beyond the resettlement service period. Donations allow us to offer food, clothing, and furnishings for their new home.

Refugee Services Program

Refugee Services assists individuals and families that have been identified by the UNHCR and the US Government as receiving refugee status. We specifically help fulfill contracts with the federal government (Reception & Placement) and the state (Refugee Case Services Project) to help our clients on the path to self-sufficiency. Our refugee clients come to us through United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) which is the voluntary agency that facilitates the resettlement efforts and assigns cases to our program. Through this program we serve refugees, asylees, and SIV holders.

  • Refugees apply for and receive refugee status in their host country and come to the US through IOM (International Office of Migration).
  • Asylees receive the same benefits as refugees but they travel to the US on their own and then apply for and receive their asylum status here in the US.
  • SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) holders come to the US either through International Organization for Migration (IOM) or on their own and receive the same benefits as refugees. SIVs are only available to persons who worked with the US Armed Forces as a translator or interpreter in Iraq or Afghanistan.
  • We also serve clients through TVAP (Trafficking Victim Assistance Program), which supports foreign born victims of severe forms of trafficking, including derivative family members and minor children of victims.


What does RR do for our clients?

For Refugees, Asylees, or SIV holders:

  • Provide resettlement services including but not limited to: airport welcome, case management, housing and furnishing support, food assistance, cultural orientation, and applications/referrals to relevant services through DHS, IRCO, and MCC.
  • For female refugees we also have the Preferred Communities Program, which provides culturally sensitive counseling, peer- support, and case management to refugee women who have experienced trauma.

For loved ones of refugees abroad:

  • Support in helping refugees/asylees complete AOR (Affidavit of Relationship) paperwork to help their close relatives (spouse, parent, or unmarried child) on the path to coming to the US as refugees.
  • Investigation into current cases abroad (limited information available).

For Victims of Trafficking:

  • Provide services including but not limited to: needs assessment, service coordination, financial support, referrals to legal services, and assistance with housing, food, clothing, health care, safety planning, transportation, and other public benefits.

What are the requirements for us to be able to serve a client?

Reception & Placement Services (R&P)

  • Client must have refugee, asylee, or SIV status granted, with documentation present
  • Client must not have received resettlement services from another resettlement agency
  • Client must have entered the US within the last 30 days
  • Services are rendered from date of US arrival up to 90 days

Refugee Case Services Project Services (RCSP)

  • If refugee or SIV, client must have documentation present confirming their status and must have been in the US for less than 8 months
  • If victim of trafficking or asylee, client must have received their stamped certification from HHS (Health and Human Services) less than 8 months ago
  • Services are rendered up to 8 months from US arrival date

Preferred Communities (PC)

  • Client must be a female refugee-equivalent who has been in the country less than 5 years and is identified as vulnerable or at-risk in regards to their stability and/or adjustment to the US
  • Services can be rendered up to 1 year from enrollment

Trafficking Victim Services (TVAP)

  • Client must be foreign born, living in the US, and identify as a victim of trafficking seeking their T Visa
  • If they have received their stamped certification from HHS, the date must be less than 1 year ago
  • Services can be rendered up to 1 year

How can you refer a client to us?

Click here to send an e-mail to our refugee team. Include the following information:

  • Client contact information (name, phone number, e-mail)
  • Client’s preferred language for contact
  • Refugee Case Number, if applicable
  • Current status (refugee, SIV, asylee, victim of trafficking, etc.)
  • How long client has been in the US
  • Which program they are seeking services from (R&P, RCSP, PC, TVAP)

Learn more about refugees and the refugee resettlement process by exploring the FAQs below.

Who are refugees and displaced persons?

Refugees and displaced persons are men, women, and children fleeing war, persecution, and/or political upheaval — often uprooted with little warning and endure great hardship during their flight. They are considered “refugees” when they cross borders and seek safety in another country and considered “displaced” when they are forced to flee their homes, but remain within the borders of their native country.

The 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, as amended by its 1967 protocol, defines a refugee as a person who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country…”

The United States will not recognize persons who have participated in war crimes and violations of humanitarian and human rights law, including the crime of terrorism, as refugees. They are specifically excluded from the protection accorded to refugees.

What is the difference between a refugee, migrant, and immigrant?

Refugees are people who were forced to flee their homes, often times without warning, and must seek safety in another country. Migrants may include refugees, but the term is often used more generally to describe people who make a conscious decision to leave their countries to seek a better life elsewhere. Some migrants may wish to return home one day. Immigrants refers to those who have moved to a foreign country with the intention of settling there.

How many refugees and displaced persons are there, and who makes up the majority of the refugee population?

There are over 65 million forcibly displaced people in the world, according to a June 2016 report by the UNHCR. The conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia have uprooted over half of these refugees. Children make up more than 50% of all refugees.

What are the options for resettlement?

There are three internationally accepted durable solutions for refugees:

  • Voluntary repatriation: Refugees return to their former country of nationality when conditions prevail that allow return in safety and with dignity
  • Local integration: Local settlement and integration of refugees in their country of first asylum upon receiving agreement from the host country.
  • Resettlement: Most frequently used for refugees whose life, liberty, safety, health, or human rights are at risk in the country where they have sought refuge. Resettlement to a third country becomes the primary objective or priority when there is no other way to guarantee the legal or physical security of the refugee.

The United States has a tradition of offering refuge to those fleeing persecution and war. The U.S. government maintains a long-established humanitarian program that grants sanctuary in this country to a limited number of refugees who cannot safely return home or stay in a host country.

How many refugees have the opportunity to resettle?

Very few refugees are considered for resettlement. Less than 1% of all refugees resettle in a third country.

How does the U.S. determine if a refugee is eligible for resettlement?

Applicants for refugee admission to the U.S. must satisfy the following criteria:

  • Meet the definition of a “refugee” as determined by U.S. government officials
  • Be among those refugees determined by the U.S. President to be of special humanitarian concern to the U.S.
  • Be otherwise admissible under U.S. law
  • Not be firmly resettled in any foreign country

Although a refugee may meet the above criteria, the existence of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program does not create any entitlement for that person to be admitted to the U.S.

How many refugees does the U.S. accept for resettlement?

The United States accepts a limited number of refugees each year. The U.S. President, in consultation with Congress, determines the authorized target for refugee admissions through a Presidential Determination. In Fiscal Year 2017-18, the United States has authorized 50,000 for admission.

How do refugees make it to the United States?

The Department of State’s Bureau for Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) oversees the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program through U.S. embassies worldwide. The State Department develops application criteria and refugee admission levels and presents eligible cases for adjudication by officers of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

USCIS officers travel to the country of asylum to interview refugees who fall within the priorities established for the relevant nationality or region. The USCIS officers interview potential applicants to determine whether they are refugees as defined under U.S. law. A refugee of any nationality may be referred by UNHCR; however, this does not guarantee admission to the U.S. for they must still qualify under U.S. law.

Upon completion of security and medical screening, the USCIS officer may approve the refugee’s application for U.S. resettlement. After approval, arrangements are made for their placement with a U.S. voluntary agency and travel to the U.S.

How are refugees vetted and how long does it take?

Refugees go through an extensive, multi-step screening process that often takes up to two years to complete.

How does refugee resettlement work?

The U.S. Refugee Program is a public/private partnership. After the U.S. State Department arranges for safe travel of refugees (via a loan made to refugees), they are assisted by local resettlement agencies and refugee service providers. The State Department provides limited funds to these agencies to set up housing, look for jobs, rally private community support, and otherwise help the refugees adjust to their new country. DHS in Oregon also provides for refugee public assistance (state funded) in the form of medical assistance and cash assistance. Refugees are eligible for up to eight months after arrival in the country and eligibility criteria parallel the state’s Medicaid and welfare programs.

Do refugees contribute to their resettlement in the U.S.?

Yes, refugees pay taxes and re-pay their travel loan. The primary goal of the resettlement process is to help refugees work toward self-sufficiency as contributing members of society and, eventually, attain their citizenship.

What happens to refugees when they come to the United States?

Refugees must rebuild their lives from traumatic and tragic circumstances. The majority embrace their newly adopted homeland with tremendous energy and success. They go on to work, attend universities, build professions, purchase homes, raise children, and contribute to their communities. Ultimately, refugees obtain citizenship and become fully participating members of society. They become Americans.

Many refugees come to the United States with few possessions and no contacts in the U.S. Other refugees come here and reunite with family members. All refugees receive limited assistance from the U.S. government and voluntary agencies. These agencies help refugees find housing, learn about life and customs in America, secure jobs, learn English, and become citizens. Working closely with the community at large, agencies provide most of the basics needed to restart their lives and help overcome cultural barriers so that adjustment is as easy as possible.

The circumstances under which refugees leave their country are different from those of other immigrants. Often in fleeing persecution, they are without the luxury of bringing personal possessions or preparing themselves for life in a new culture. Recognizing this fact, the federal government provides one-time resettlement assistance to newly arrived refugees. In the first 90 days, agencies contract with the Department of State to provide for refugee’s food, housing, employment, medical care, counseling, and other services to help the refugee make a rapid transition to economic self-sufficiency.

The Refugee Resettlement Program provides a wide array of services to refugees assigned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in collaboration with the U.S. Department of State. These services include assistance with housing, social services, health care referrals, school enrollment, community and cultural orientation, English language assistance and education, interpretation, employment, and transportation to initial appointments. We provide initial services for 90 days and additional case management support for up to eight months.

Tell me more about the refugees you serve.

Most refugees have in common that they had a full life with work, family, and fun until circumstances forced them to leave their home. Otherwise, there is no typical refugee.

Some refugees come from rural areas, and some come from large cities. Some come from cultures relatively similar to ours and others may not trust or accept tools or services we take for granted. For example, a refugee may not be comfortable going to the doctor, as medicine practiced here may be drastically different from their home country. A refugee may be hesitant about using something as seemingly basic to us as a microwave or an ATM.

Many refugees had successful professional careers in medicine, law, business, or education in their home country. These refugees have not suddenly lost their intelligence, skills, or experiences because they lost their homes. But they do face cultural and language barriers as they work to rebuild their life in a new country.

What is the impact of refugee resettlement?

With the assistance of Catholic Charities and community partners, refugees work towards becoming contributing members of their communities and the local economy. The majority of adults who are able to work are successful in finding employment within three to five months. Most gain financial independence within a few years and many become (or become again based on their previous occupation) business owners, carpenters, doctors, engineers, interpreters, landscapers, nurses, pharmacists, pastors, social workers, students in higher education, tailors, and teachers.

How long does Catholic Charities help the refugees?

We assist each refugee family with intensive case services for 90 days, in addition to support until they are employed, for up to 8 months.

Where do the refugees in Portland come from?

Catholic Charities serves a cross-section of refugees being resettled across the world.  Currently we are seeing refugees from Somalia, Myanmar (Burma), Bhutan, Sudan, South Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Donating Household Items

Please click here to view the current needs from each of our program areas.

Matthew Westerbeck | Program Manager, Refugee Services

As Program Manager of the Refugee Services Program, Matthew oversees all operations for initial resettlement services in Oregon including Reception and Placement and Match Grant employment services. Matthew is additionally the Director of Community and Legislative Engagement with Oregon’s Refugee Resettlement Collaborative, and is engaged in advocacy efforts to support policy changes to help immigrants and refugees thrive in the U.S.  Matthew taught English as a Second Language to professionals and government officials for two years in Japan with Unitas Language Services. He is an active volunteer with numerous organizations serving refugees and immigrants, and is an Advisory Team Member with Salem For Refugees, and a Board Member with Butterfly Boxes. An avid cyclist, obsessive news reader, and an aspiring amateur photographer, Matthew has a B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Oregon and hopes to attend law school one day.

Give to Refugee Services

Without the generosity of donors, Catholic Charities would not be able to support the life-changing services offered by our Refugee Services Program. The support of our community is instrumental in the success of all of our clients. Thank you for investing in this important work!

To make a gift to Refugee Services by mail, send your check to the following address:

Catholic Charities
Attention: Development
2740 SE Powell Blvd.
Portland, Oregon 97202

Click below to make an online gift.

march, 2019

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