Refugee Services

Catholic Charities’ Refugee Services Program has been assisting refugees since the early 1940s, helping more than 10,000 people make Oregon their new home, and more recently, in the past three years, has resettled over 1,200 refugees. Catholic Charities is one of only three resettlement agencies in the state of Oregon who provide these resettlement services.

Through its Refugee Programs, Catholic Charities assists individuals and families that must leave their homelands due to the fear of persecution based on reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, and/or political opinion. The services offered through these programs address a wide array of needs, ranging from initial resettlement to long-term intensive case management. We promote successful integration into American society while maintaining the respect and dignity of each individual and their unique culture and traditions.

The newly arriving refugees are greeted at the airport and from that moment of arrival, program staff work to meet their basic needs, including safe and affordable housing, furnishings, food, and clothing in order to get them started on the path to rebuilding their live in a new place. Case workers also facilitate referrals to other service providers, community organizations, and schools. In addition to physical items and support, case workers provide psychosocial care as individuals work through the cultural transition to the United States, process their often traumatic life experiences, and prepare for the new future here. Our role is to ensure that refugees are property resettled and connected to necessary services in Oregon such as accessing health care, job training, English language instruction, and other public benefits.

Refugees have endured great hardship — sometimes for many years — before they arrive in the U.S. Often they are fleeing war and persecution meaning they 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 other furnishings for their new home.

Who We Serve

The Refugee Services Program assists individuals and families that have been identified by the UNHCR and the US Government as qualifying for refugee status – meaning they have been forced to flee their home country to escape persecution, war or violence. We specifically fulfill contracts with the Department of State (Reception & Placement) and the State of Oregon (Refugee Family Services and Connections) to help our clients on the path to self-sufficiency. Our refugee clients come to us through a partnership with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) which is the voluntary agency at the national level that facilitates the resettlement efforts and assigns cases to our program. Through our programming we are able to serve refugees, asylees, T-Visa and SIV holders.

  • Refugees apply for and receive refugee status in their host country and are referred by IOM (International Office of Migration) to the US for resettlement. After intense screening by the US government, eligible refugees are then assigned to one of the nine voluntary agencies who work with national affiliate offices to resettle them throughout the US.
  • Asylees are eligible for the same public benefits as refugees but they travel to the US on their own and then apply for and receive their asylum status once 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, holders of T-Visas), which supports foreign born victims of severe forms of trafficking, including derivative family members and minor children of victims.

How We Serve

For Refugees, Asylees, and SIV holders:

  • Provide resettlement services which can include: airport welcome, case management, housing and furnishing support, food assistance, cultural orientation, and applications/referrals to relevant services through DHS, IRCO, and MCC.
  • For eligible female clients, we also have the Preferred Communities Program, which provides culturally sensitive counseling, peer- support, and case management to women who have experienced trauma or who need more support to achieve self-sufficiency.
  • For individuals or families who have not yet received their Asylum Approval Notification, we encourage them to reach out to Immigration Legal Services for support;

For loved ones of refugees abroad:

  • Our Immigration Legal Services department can provide support in helping refugees/asylees complete legal paperwork to help their close relatives (spouse, parent, or unmarried child) on the path to coming to the US as refugees or asylees.
  • 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.

Volunteer With Refugee Services

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.

Interested in volunteering with Refugee Services? Check out our list of opportunities on our Volunteer page! Watch this video to learn more about becoming a Cultural Navigator: 

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.

Volunteer Opportunities

Referral Information

Catholic Charities provides services to individuals and families with qualifying statuses through programs funded through Federal and State governments. Below is the list of programs currently provided and which populations are eligible to receive services.

Reception & Placement Services (R&P)

Only Refugee and SIV statuses are eligible for this program. The R&P Program focuses on initial resettlement, including airport welcome, case management, housing and furnishing support, food assistance, school enrollment cultural orientation, and applications/referrals to relevant services through DHS, IRCO, and MCC.

  • Client must have refugee or SIV status officially 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 for up to 90 days after the date of US arrival.

Refugee Family Services and Connections (RFSC)

The RFSC Program works closely with Oregon’s Department of Humans Services (DHS) to provide case management services to assist refugees, and other qualifying statuses, access public benefits, navigate healthcare, connect to housing resources, and move towards self-sufficiency.

  • Client must have documentation present confirming their status (Refugee, Asylee or SIV) and must have been in the US for less than 60 months (5 years).
  • If victim of trafficking, client must have received their stamped certification from HHS (Health and Human Services) and must have been in the US for less than 60 months (5 years).
  • Services can be rendered up to 1 year, as long as the individual or family is still within 5 years of their US Arrival date.

Match Grant Program (MG)

The MG Program is an employment services program that works with recently arrived/approved clients to quickly find jobs and access English language classes to work towards becoming self-sufficient.

  • Client must have refugee, asylee, or SIV status officially granted, with documentation present.
  • Client must have entered the US, or received their qualifying status, within the last 30-90 days (depending on status), and cannot be receiving similar services from another provider.
  • Services can be rendered for up to 6-months.

Preferred Communities (PC)

The PC Program focuses on working with vulnerable refugee populations, and in particular women who have experienced trauma, to help them adjust to the US and work towards self-sufficiency.  Services are provided through one-on-one intensive case management and through culturally specific support groups.

  • Client must have documentation present confirming their status (Refugee, Asylee or SIV) and must have been in the US for less than 60 months (5 years).
  • Client must be an individual who has been identified as vulnerable or at-risk in regards to their self-sufficiency and/or adjustment to the US.
  • Services can be rendered up to 1 year, as long as the individual or family is still within 5 years of their US Arrival date.

Anti-Human Trafficking Program 

The Anti-Human Trafficking Program provides victims of trafficking with case management services, including resource connections, temporary financial assistance, and referrals to other services as needed.

  • 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. Please include the following information:

  • Client contact information (name, phone number, e-mail, and county of current residence)
  • Client’s preferred language for contact
  • Refugee Case Number, if applicable/known
  • 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, RFSC, MG, PC, TVAP)

Donate Household Items

The Refugee Services team relies on donations from volunteers and partners to furnish houses and apartments for arriving individuals and families. These donations can include lightly used furniture (table, chairs, couches, lamps, drawers, etc…) and new items such as towels and sheets, kitchen sets, laundry soap, pillows, etc.

Please click here to view the current needs from each of our program areas or email ( for more information or to set up a time for dropping off items.


Program Leadership

Matthew Westerbeck | Manager, Case Management Services

Matthew Westerbeck began his journey into the nonprofit sector by starting as a volunteer in Catholic Charities’ Refugee Resettlement program in 2014. The experience of walking alongside and supporting a recently resettled family had a profound experience on him and he soon began pursuing a career change. In late 2016 he succeeded in that goal and was able to join Refugee Resettlement as program manager after having spent nearly two decades in retail management. Matthew currently manages the services that provide the initial support to refugees in the Portland metro area, as well as in Salem/Keizer, OR. He has also been blessed to live for two years in Japan, where his passion for working with people from around the world was born. Matthew is an avid cyclist, obsessive news reader, and an amateur, aspiring photographer. He has a B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Oregon.

Fowzia Abdulle | Case Manager Supervisor

Refugee FAQ

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.