Charleston, WV was the site of a small demonstration by several hundred last night. Organized by the West Virginia Interfaith Refugee Ministry (WVIRM), whose board of advisors includes the Rev. Marquita Hutchens, Rector of St John’s Episcopal Church in Charleston and Lynn Clark, a member of St John’s; the protesters were gathered to show their support for the resettlement of Syrian refugees in West Virginia’s capital.
WVIRM has established a relationship with Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM), one of only a handful of organizations authorized by the US State department to manage refugee resettlement. After looking at applications from five other cities, Charleston was chosen as a potential resettlement site. The selection was based on several criteria, such as that Charleston already has a sizable Syrian-American community that wants to be involved and it is expected that many of the refugees will be educated in fields where there are significant gaps in the local workforce such as engineering, medicine and pharmacy.
Bishop Mark Van Koevering, the assistant Bishop of West Virginia, who was present at the rally, explained that the purpose was to “say West Virginia welcomes refugees and wants to be a welcoming place;” adding that “it seems a biblical mandate to help the stranger and those who are hurting.”
The Diocese of West Virginia would be the fiduciary agent on EMM’s behalf locally, working closely with WVIRM to resettle the refugees and get them on their feet ads soon as possible. If the State Department approves, approximately 30 families would be rresettled each year for three years starting in April 2017.
A small counter-demonstration of a dozen or so people was held concurrently with the rally and the rhetoric of President-elect Trump suggests that there may be changes to the current administrations goals of settling 10,000 refugees annually. Bishop Van Koevering said that the current climate has “created a huge uncertainty. EMM is going on as normal but no one really knows what normal will be anymore.”
The Episcopal Public Policy Network has resources and tips for Refugee and Immigration Advocacy here
top image: Sam Owen, Charleston Gazette