The Gift of Hope for the Holiday Season: Darfuri Resettlement in New Jersey

Posted by Gideon Aronoff on Tue, Dec 27, 2011 at 15:16 pm

In a season when we are celebrating Chanukah and looking forward to the upcoming New Year, two essential themes have been dominating my thoughts: miracles and new beginnings. As a resident of suburban New Jersey in the MetroWest area, these themes have a particularly Judeo-Darfuri flavor.

Last week I had the opportunity as President of HIAS to visit with the staff and volunteers of the Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) of MetroWest to experience part of their tremendous work as HIAS’ flagship affiliate resettling refugees from Darfur. I also had the privilege to meet several Darfuri refugees who now join me as neighbors in my home community. I can’t express how proud I am that my own local Jewish community is one of the first to take a lead in giving love, care, and hope for a brighter future to refugees who fled genocide and terror in Darfur. At JVS, Darfuris are being taught English, helped to find homes and social services, prepared for the GED test, and assisted in seeking employment and self sufficiency. Several of the refugees I spoke with told me of their dreams of attending school; becoming engineers, doctors, and other professionals who could give back to the community and help the needy; and, of course, being reunited with family left behind. The first two Darfuri arrivals were featured in a story in the most recent issue of HIAS’ magazine Passages.

The Darfuri refugees at JVS were resettled out of Kenya and Egypt, a HIAS program that should see at least 40 Darfuri refugees resettled by this affiliate, our local partner in Philadelphia (HIAS PA), and possibly others. HIAS is part of a national effort that is expected to resettle approximately 1,500 Darfuris from Kenya, Egypt, Syria, Turkey, and the Central African Republic. Tragically absent from the source countries of Darfuri resettlement is Chad, where more than 250,000 Darfuris have been residing for years under very difficult conditions, but where no resettlement program is currently possible. HIAS is, however, providing tens of thousands of these Darfuris with a wide array of social, community, and counseling services in six Chadian refugee camps—including life saving interventions for victims of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV), widows, orphans, children and adolescents, and other particularly vulnerable refugees. Through these programs, Darfuri refugees in Chad are able to survive while the international community slowly contemplates some form of long-term durable solution to their plight.

Speaking with the refugees at JVS—some quite fluent in English, while others face greater language challenges—I heard of their flight from their home villages in Darfur. When I asked how they ended up in Kenya trekking through the Nuba mountain region of Sudan, I was told that when their villages were attacked at night by the Janjaweed militiamen on horseback and the Sudanese military by air, they had fled in any direction that was possible. Running into the dark forests, it was just a matter of chance—in this case miraculous good fortune—that they, while suffering nearly indescribable losses and hardships, ended up in Kenya where a resettlement program was possible.

Listening to these stories, I could not but think of the victims of the Holocaust, pogroms, and anti-Semitism in Russia and the Soviet Union and other tragic episodes of history where Jewish refugees simply fled from their homes, not knowing how—or even if—they would survive and where they would ultimately go. Helping these Jewish refugees and many others of varied backgrounds has been HIAS’ mission for 130 years.

And so, thanks to the U.S. resettlement program, nongovernmental organizations like HIAS, and the dedication and compassion of JVS’ professionals and volunteers, this handful of Darfuris will experience the miracle of a new life of freedom, security, hope, and opportunity in New Jersey. Being able to participate in this miracle—as I hope, pray, and work for the hundreds of thousands of other Darfuris who are less fortunate—is a truly powerful gift for me during this holiday season.

Wishing each of you and your families joy, peace, and meaning in the New Year.

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