Category Archives: Refugees

Reaching the Borders for Refugee Women and Children

By Sisters Denise Curry, Therese (Tracy) Dill, Mary Alice McCabe, SNDdeN

During more than 200 years as a Congregation, we, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur have been and are a strong presence in service to immigrants and refugees around the world. In the United States, with an increasing persecution of immigrants living in this country and the denial of entry to asylum seekers, our Sisters search for new ways to help peoples suffering under inhumane US immigration policies. The CARA Pro Bono Volunteer Project, established by the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC) with 3 other immigrant advocacy organizations provides a new opportunity to serve immigrant peoples.

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Sisters Denise Curry, Mary Alice McCabe and Tracy Dill, SNDdeN discuss plans for more Sisters to assist the refugees in the detention center.

In 2017, three of us, Sisters Denise Curry, Mary Alice McCabe and Therese (Tracy) Dill spent a week as CARA Project volunteers in Dilley, Texas at a “Family Residential Center,” under US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This privately-owned facility houses 2,400 refugee women and children. It is a detention center, filled to capacity with mothers and their children, fleeing from persecution in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. These mothers make this dangerous flight toward the US border in a desperate attempt to protect their children from violence and even death. In fact, these innocent women and children entering the USA find themselves in a prison which treats them like criminals and terrorists.

VOLUNTEER SERVICE
The CARA Project offers sensitive and compassionate legal assistance to these families. Spanish-speaking mothers prepare for interviewswith ICE asylum officers in which they tell their distressing stories of persecution from either gang-related or domestic violence. As volunteers, we found a number of ways to help at the center. As interpreters in
Spanish, we gave in-take talks for helping the women to understand the steps and to feel relaxed and safe in this asylum process. Meeting with each woman individually, we listened to her story and assisted her in preparing for her interview with an ICE asylum officer. We also assisted with the office work that needs to be done in order for the CARA lawyers and paralegals to provide legal services for the women.

To serve the increasing numbers of asylum seekers at Dilley, the Project needs more volunteers: lawyers, paralegals and interpreters. Volunteers meet hundreds of mothers and children, thin, exhausted, and frightened, who have been walking and hiding for weeks. The women and children remain in detention in Dilley until ICE determines their fate. In the interview, the ICE asylum officer listens to the woman’s experience and decides whether or not the persecution in her country of origin is “credible” enough under US immigration law to allow her to seek asylum and stay in the US. The woman must tell her story of having been terrorized and traumatized, in a convincing manner. She must show that she has fled for her life and that return to her country would mean death. The stories are very disturbing: gangs kill family members, kidnap children, force men and teenage boys into gang “membership,” extort monthly payments from well-off and poor alike, abuse and rape girls. In domestic violence cases, women are beaten, treated as property, held captive, and receive death threats.

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FUTURE FOR WOMEN AND CHILDREN
We-are-HumanA positive evaluation from the asylum officer is required for a mother and her children to be released from detention and sent on to their destination in the USA.

A negative evaluation will send the mother and children into the deportation cycle, which in most cases, means a “death sentence.” CARA lawyers always appeal negative evaluations and do everything to give these women and children a chance at a new life.

A week with these mothers and children is an experience that shakes one’s heart and soul in a unique way. We meet brave women from both cultures: Central American women struggling against all odds to protect their families, and North American women, volunteers, pro bono lawyers and our own Sisters committed to social justice and basic human rights for immigrant families. At this time, more Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur are preparing for volunteer service at this detention center in Texas during the current year 2018.


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Donate now to assist the Sisters minister to the refugees at the Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas.

Reprinted from Good Works, Volume 14, No. 1, March 2018.

Published in print two times a year and on-line monthly (snddengw.org).

To subscribe to a printed edition, send your name and a mailing address to Sr. Anne Stevenson, SNDdeN by mail: 30 Jeffreys Neck Road, Ipswich, MA 01938 or by email: anne.stevenson@sndden.org. (International subscribers are encouraged to subscribe to this online edition through the WordPress App.)

Refugees Cross the Channel

Sister Mary McClure, SNDdeN and Mrs. Rosemary Martin, Head Teacher

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Sr. Mary McClure, SNDdeN welcomes a group of young women from Ethiopia and Eritrea.

The media has recorded well the plight of refugees and asylum seekers. For many refugees from Africa and the Middle East, the journey led to Calais, France, the nearest port for entry into England.  And for most refugees, their journey ended there. Access was denied. Camps were set up and this area became known as the ‘jungle.  Who can imagine the plight of a group of unaccompanied young women in their journey from Ethiopia and Eritrea?

When the camps were being flattened, a group of unaccompanied young women remained in Calais. Beginning to draw negative attention from some male Asylum Seekers, they would be easy prey for traffickers.  The authorities in France quickly distributed the girls to other parts of the country whilst Sr-Mary-and-Girl-300px-web-pixilatedlooking for a more permanent solution.  Glasgow City Council agreed to accept a number of Asylum Seekers to the City, as had been the pattern for a number of years.  On hearing the plight of these 19 young women, (11 from Eritrea and 8 from Ethiopia). Glasgow became proactive about ensuring a safe place for them in the City. Very quickly, a large number of the City services personnel, including Educators and Social Workers, met to discuss how to accommodate and protect these vulnerable young women. They considered how the girls could be educated together, in such a large number, whilst receiving the support and nurture required for them.

EDUCATION FOR NEW LIFE
a-catholic-community-of-faith-sign-300px-webNotre Dame High School in Glasgow
is a unique school. It is the only all girls’ school in Scotland which is non fee-paying and financed by the local education service.  Founded over 100 years ago, by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, our school continues to offer a ‘safe, supportive environment’ for girls and young women. This Catholic School is recognised as a community which is inclusive of other faith traditions while continuing to celebrate our Catholic identity.

head-teacher-ndhs-glasgow-2017-150px-webIn late November 2016, as Head Teacher of Notre Dame High School, Glasgow, I received a phone call from Maureen McKenna, Executive Director of Education in Glasgow. Maureen believed that the Catholic ethos and nurturing environment which Notre Dame High School provides would be the best possible provision and asked how did I feel about welcoming this group to our school.  With the agreement of our management team, my response was positive: “with open arms,” continuing the heritage and ethos of our Patroness, St. Julie Billiart.

With two weeks to prepare for their arrival, with no idea of age and stage or the level of English language acquisition or level of schooling received, we began making plans to welcome our new students.  Our first meeting with the girls from Ethiopia and Eritrea took place in their newly refurbished accommodation (a former hostel for the homeless).  With the Pastoral Care team and Year Group Head, we were able to greet our new students.  We had managed to acquire a stock of used uniforms and 19 new school ties.  It was an incredibly humbling experience to witness their delight, not only at the uniform, but on the realisation that education would be an integral part of their new life. We were able to show the girls pictures of their new school and began forming relationships that we hoped would ease their obvious anxieties.

PRESENTS IN PRESENCE
The presence of these young women in our school highlights for us that Notre Dame High School is a special school. Heads of Department and classroom teachers go out of their way to provide learning experiences which are accessible to all. Our young people volunteer their time to support the newcomers in classrooms and on excursions around the City.  Similarly, our new girls are already beginning to establish themselves, even in contributing to our Christmas Carol concert for parents and friends and in our final Christmas service for the young people. What a moving experience to hear the 8 girls from Ethiopia sing an ancient carol in their own tongue.

St. Vincent de Paul group from our local parish community, St. Simon’s, provided £500 to help with the girls’ transition.  We bought Christmas gifts of watches for each of them–why watches? Our students were learning how to tell the time, and no one had a watch!

These young women are a gift to our Notre Dame community. They encourage us to have ‘hearts as wide as the world.’ They remind us of the fragility of life and the sacredness of life. These young women have come to us from the most abandoned places. With courage we continue to welcome, teach and sing: How good is our good God.

Sisters Welcome Asylum Seekers in Scotland

by Sisters Patricia Cassidy, SNDdeN

“I was a stranger and you welcomed me…” (Matthew 25: 26)

The city of Glasgow, Scotland has welcomed more dispersed asylum seekers than any other city in Britain. Since the year 2000, the Government in the United Kingdom (UK) has been dispersing asylum seekers throughout the country to ease pressure on London and surroundings. Many Glasgow-based organisations are rising to the challenge.

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Today Sisters Patricia Cassidy, Maureen Coyle, and  Eileen Cassidy, SNDdeN make a difference in the lives of refugees and migrants.

In collaboration with an organisation in Britain, called Positive Action in Housing (PAIH), three Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur are making a difference today in the lives of refugees and migrants in Glasgow. PAIH supports and highlights the plight of destitute asylum seekers, i.e. those whose cases are rejected. This organisation provides some financial support through a Destitution Fund, raised by public donation, and tries to find overnight accommodation for the most vulnerable, either in hostels or with accommodation volunteers. Three Sisters assist these asylum seekers who lose all support entitlements, including their homes, and who find themselves evicted onto the streets. Sisters Patricia Cassidy and Maureen Coyle, SNDdeN are among those volunteers who open their home in Glasgow to asylum seekers. Living next door to them, Sr. Eileen Cassidy, SNDdeN also offers “on hand” support in this ministry.

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