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Fort Worth refugee agencies, churches try to fill gaps created by agency’s closure

Assadullah (right) and Zahra Nazar (left) came to the U.S. from Afghanistan as refugees. They were able to start their new life through faith-based resettlement agencies like World Relief.
Cristian ArguetaSoto
/
Fort Worth Report
Assadullah (right) and Zahra Nazar (left) came to the U.S. from Afghanistan as refugees. They were able to start their new life through faith-based resettlement agencies like World Relief.

After the Taliban took over Afghanistan in 2021, Assadullah Nazar’s family fled to Qatar, more than 1,000 miles from their home country. Nazar and his wife and daughter spent about five days in the sheikdom’s airport on the Arabian Peninsula before they could seek refuge in the U.S.

“We came with one bag (of clothes) and that’s it. When we came here, we had nothing,” Nazar said.

Nazar and his family were helped by World Relief, a global Christian humanitarian organization that partners with churches to provide refugee resettlement and other forms of aid. When Nazar’s family arrived in Texas, he said, a team of World Relief volunteers helped make Fort Worth their new home.

After living in the city for over a year, Nazar and his wife still miss their family in Afghanistan, but they’re learning how to make a life in Texas.

Over the summer, World Relief Texas and other faith-based organizations have seen an influx of refugees in response to the closure of Refugee Services of Texas, the largest refugee resettlement agency in the state. After 45 years of operation, the agency announced May 26 that it was unable to raise enough money to stay open.

Faith-based refugee resettlement agencies step up

Since the closure, the Texas Office for Refugees reassigned the agency’s clients to organizations like Catholic Charities Fort Worth, World Relief Texas and Islamic Circle of North America Relief’s Dallas branch.

Since the 1970s, Catholic Charities Fort Worth has served individuals and families across the 28-county Roman Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth and offers resettlement services such as welcoming refugees when they arrive in North Texas and helping them find a job.

Catholic Charities Fort Worth received over 600 former Refugee Services of Texas clients since the closure, and may receive more in the coming months as the process is still ongoing, said a spokesperson for the organization.

World Relief has served over 1,500 clients, both from the influx of families needing support and Refugee Services of Texas closing its doors, according to a World Relief spokesperson. The organization has also seen 80 new refugees in its reception and placement program, which is the program refugees experience during their first 90 days in a new country, since Refugee Services’ closure.

“It has been the busiest year program-wise our office has ever seen,” said a spokesperson from World Relief.

Garrett Pearson is the executive director of World Relief Texas. For him, it was difficult to see Refugee Services of Texas shut down but also inspiring to see how other agencies are stepping up. Along with the influx of refugees, Pearson said, World Relief Texas has also seen an increase in volunteers from churches and other organizations.

“Staff that worked at Refugee Services of Texas in Fort Worth and Dallas have stepped up to volunteer in new ways to care, love and support their clients even though they’re not being paid to do so,” Pearson said.

Hala Halabi is director of refugee facilitation for the Islamic Circle of North America Relief’s Dallas branch, a Muslim organization that helps refugees or survivors of disaster. That organization has been collaborating with Catholic Charities Fort Worth and World Relief in taking in some of the refugee cases, she said.

“They’ve been there, I mean, step by step, with us,” Halabi said.

The agency has helped refugees through its reception and placement program, which is a program resettlement agencies have that helps refugees during their first 90 days of being in a new country.

“We make sure that kids receive the vaccinations being registered at school, and then refer all the clients to the refugee clinic. And just like making sure that all their basic needs are there,” Halabi said.

ICNA Relief is expecting to resettle about 200 people by September, Halabi said.

How to volunteer and donate

World Relief Texas

  • Visit the volunteer page to apply to be a case aide, conversation or friendship partner. Click here to learn more about engaging your church with World Relief Texas
  • Visit thedonations page to learn how to donate welcome kits,  clothing items, a car, purchase gift cards or check out the organization’s Amazon wishlists for furnishing homes. 

Catholic Charities Fort Worth 

  • Visit the get involved page for volunteer opportunities, information sessions, events and how parishes, faith-based organizations can collaborate. 
  • Visit the ways to give page to make monetary donations, corporate sponsorships, donate a car or sponsor an event. 

Islamic Circle of North America Relief

  • Visit the volunteer page to learn how to volunteer at an event 
  •  Visit the donations page to support the organization’s back to school drives, refugee services or general donations. For other ways to give, click here

How local churches are getting involved

Pearson said World Relief Texas has also seen different churches form welcome teams for refugees. One of those teams is David and Michelle Dill, who lead Grace Baptist Church’s refugee ministry. The Dills have worked with World Relief in helping refugees resettle in Fort Worth for the past four years.

The ministry works to supplement case workers in helping refugees address any immediate needs such as going to a hospital, doctor appointments or getting groceries, David said.

Along with helping refugees with their immediate needs, Michelle said she and David have built relationships with clients by hosting dinners or enjoying trips to parks together with their children.

“I think the biggest surprise as to how much love you can share between people is that you don’t even speak the same language. We have made some beautiful relationships with these families,” Michelle said. “People are so afraid of refugees, and they don’t realize what they’re missing out on.”

Allison Lanza is the co-executive director of Be The Neighbor, a service-based learning ministry for teenagers related to The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ. Refugee services have been at the top of the ministry’s mind since its inception and volunteers typically set up apartments before the refugees arrived, Lanza said.

Refugee Services of Texas was Be The Neighbor’s primary partner, Lanza said. Along with apartment set-ups and shopping trips, the ministry would also play with kids while the parents were in English-second-language classes, job-training classes and citizenship classes. Since its closure, Lanza said, the ministry is building its relationship with the faith-based refugee agencies that are filling in the gaps like World Relief.

“I’m a little bit afraid with the Refugee Services of Texas going down, that we might start to lose pieces of the fact that they were one of those largest resettlement agencies,” Lanza said. “ I think growing up in Texas, what it means to be Texan and Fort Worth is in the most positive way is that we ‘re really good neighbors to each other, and that’s a big thing that we’ve shown, historically. I hope we can keep doing that.”

Marissa Greene is a Report for America corps member, covering faith for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at marissa.greene@fortworthreport.org or on Twitter at @marissaygreene

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

This article first appeared on Fort Worth Report and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Marissa Greene is a Report for America corps member and covers faith in Tarrant County for the Fort Worth Report.