New London church welcomes Syrian family to new home

New London — A six-member family of refugees from the war-ravaged country of Syria moved in to their new home on Jay Street on Wednesday, helping to fulfill a mission by the congregation of All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church.

The church had purchased the property about a year ago as a way to locally contribute to the effort to address the refugee crisis. The home is meant to provide a “soft landing” for refugee families until a permanent residence is found.

And while the climate for refugees and immigrants has shifted under President Donald Trump — Trump recently ordered a temporary ban on refugees from Syria and six other Muslim-majority countries — All Souls Pastor Carolyn Patierno said the need has not diminished.

“We could have never anticipated the landscape that we are looking out onto at this point,” Patierno said. “Fortunately, this family got in right under the wire. There will be others that are in need of shelter, safety and reassurance. We will serve as needed.”

The newest Syrian family includes a mother and father with two sons and two daughters ranging in age from 2 to 10, who came to the U.S. from a refugee camp in Istanbul, Turkey. Turkey is hosting an estimated 2.7 million of the 11 million Syrians who have fled their home country since the outbreak of a civil war there in 2011.

The family arrived in the U.S. in January prior to Trump’s inauguration and have been living at a Norwich home while renovations were completed at the Jay Street property.

The family is the third to come to New London through the efforts of Start Fresh, the New London Area Refugee Settlement Team that is composed of volunteers from a collaborative of faith-based groups. The families come to Connecticut through New Haven-based Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, or IRIS.

The previous families to come to New London are Syrian and Sudanese and so far have assimilated well, learning the language, working to obtain jobs and enrolling their children in the local schools, according to Start Fresh Co-Leader Ron Ward. Seven families in all have come to eastern Connecticut through Start Fresh and other outreach organizations.

Ward said the new family has been living in a refugee camp for nearly four years and while longing for return to their home, they are happy to be living away from the dangers in Syria.

“This family experienced bombings and direct threats to their homes and neighborhoods,” Ward said. “They are relieved to finally be in a place where their children can receive an education.”

Two of the family’s children were born in the refugee camp.

Ward said the family had gone through at least two years of vetting before getting the call they would be able to leave the refugee camp. For the safety and security of the family, and for their family remaining in Syria, Ward declined a request to photograph the family.

Patierno said the effort to welcome refugees into the area and make them feel comfortable is a true collaborative effort.

“The folks who filled the refrigerator and are driving the family here, the people who bought the furniture — these are people of all different faith communities. Eight in all. It’s not just All Souls,” Patierno said.

And while the natural instinct of the members of the All Souls congregation is to open their arms and welcome the new family in, Patierno said they also do not want to be intrusive.

“We’ll be good neighbors. We’ll take our cues from the family. We want them to know, without it being intrusive, we are here to support them,” she said.

g.smith@theday.com

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