Approximately 860 Hmong refugees might resettle in Northeastern Wisconsin between July and December 2004, and help is greatly needed.
That’s according to Barbara Biebel, director of Refugee and Immigration Services of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Green Bay. The principle goal will be to help the families achieve rapid self-sufficiency. And to a great degree this will be facilitated by Hmong relatives who already are in the U.S. and have agreed to assist Catholic Charities, the sponsoring organization, and other community resources to guide the newly arriving families in the process.
To reach the goal of self-sufficiency will require significant ranks of volunteers to perform numerous tasks within the first 90 days, as required by the agreement between the national resettlement organization, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and the U.S. Department of State (DOS). Catholic Charities operates as an affiliate of the USCCB in carrying out resettlement obligations locally. Volunteers are needed to help the Hmong families find suitable housing and furnishings, food, and climate-appropriate clothing; transport refugees to register with various governmental and service agencies; tutor; and locate work.
In addition to the approximate 300 volunteers needed, Biebel says cooperation and collaboration between various private and public agencies is a must.
The nationwide resettlement of approximately 15,000 Hmong refugees is being coordinated through the State Department since the effort is considered a foreign policy matter. The DOS works with agencies such as the USCCB and its Catholic Charities network to bring people who have a well-founded fear of persecution if they return to their homeland.
The Hmong earned refugee status from the U.S. government for their assistance to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency during the Vietnam War. In addition to the critical role the Hmong played in rescuing U.S. pilots downed over Laos, the Hmong also fought on behalf of the U.S. in a secret war against the North Vietnamese Army and Lao Communist armies. Ultimately, the defeat in Vietnam and fall of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos to Communist forces, meant thousands of people could not return to their homelands. The included the Hmong who could not return to their native Laos for fear of retaliation.
Now, 31 years after the war and 28 years after the first wave of Hmong refugees, Biebel says her team knows how the process works.
- Catholic Charities receives a Request for Verification from the national voluntary agency (the USCCB’s office of Migration and Refugee Services) to accept a case whose relatives live in this area.
- Catholic Charities contacts the relative listed on the Verification sheet which should match an Interest Form on file.
- Catholic Charities meets with the relative and conducts a pre-planning inventory to ensure the relative will welcome and assist the refugee.
- Catholic Charities determines if the relative needs outside assistance in meeting the needs of the newcomer.
- If needed, Catholic Charities seeks assistance from volunteers, church and civic groups, Hmong mutual assistance associations and other service providers in the local community.
- After verifying the case, Catholic Charities usually receives within a couple of weeks the "First Arrival Notice," which tells the expected date and location of arrival of the family. Preparations for the family’s arrival go into full swing.
- Shortly thereafter, the "Second Arrival Notice" is received, which tells the specific date, time, location and flight information. "We coordinate an airport reception with the relatives and any volunteers who have signed on to assist the family which is arriving," says Biebel.
The Hmong refugees are living in the Wat Thamkrabot, a temple in central Thailand, which has provided them with a safe haven. Most fled to the Wat after the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees closed the refugee camps in Thailand about 10 years ago.
Biebel knows the arrival of so many refugees will impact many community services in Green Bay, the Fox Cities, Manitowoc and Oshkosh and asks that people keep one thing in mind:
Refugee Journey Overview Chart
"The best solution for refugees always is to return safely to their homelands. A far less desirable solution is resettlement in a foreign land. Since a safe return to Laos cannot be assured and Thailand is unwilling to allow them to remain (at the Wat), resettlement in the United States is a necessary solution. We must remember that they are refugees because of their wartime service fighting on behalf of the United States. The earlier Hmong arrivals have done well in the short time they’ve been in the United States. I have every reason to believe the newcomers will also do well after they begin to adjust to a new culture, learn a new language and gain a foothold in the communities of Northeastern Wisconsin which will welcome and assist them."