A family of nine Syrian refugees — two parents and their seven children, ages 4 through 15, exhausted after a day-long journey from Jordan where they’d spent years in a refugee camp — arrived at their new home in Lancaster late Monday evening.
It is the second family from the war-torn region to arrive in Lancaster in recent months.
And more are on their way.
“Lancaster has been a destination for refugees for quite a long time. This is nothing new,” Christine Baer, congregational resource developer for Church World Service in Lancaster, said Friday.
“The difference is, through the years, the world’s conflicts change and, consequently, the waves of refugees needing resettlement ... always is changing and shifting.”
Since the years following World War II, Lancaster has opened its arms to displaced people in need, Baer said. In the decades since, more nonprofit organizations — on local, national and international scales — have formed to help facilitate the process.
In Lancaster County, she said, two organizations — Church World Service and Lutheran Refugee Services — operate on the forefront, Baer said.
“The local faith community really stepped up,” she said.
A half-century ago, many refugees were of Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian origin, she said. As years passed, the influx tended more toward Russian and Ukrainian refugees and, more recently, Burmese, Bhutanese-Nepali, Congolese and Somali.
“This isn’t something new to this area,” Baer said. “Gracious, if you want to go back centuries, my ancestors came to the Lancaster area from Europe to escape religious persecution. There just wasn’t an agency set up back then to help them.”
What hasn’t changed, she said, is that “Lancaster is a welcoming community. It always has been.”
Besides friendly neighbors and agencies in place to ease their transition, refugees are drawn by the region’s strong economy and the willingness of many local employers to provide refugees with jobs — often, Baer said, in areas such as food manufacturing, seasonal field work and warehousing.
“This is a workforce that is willing to work,” she said, “and area employers recognize that.”
Refugees who come into Lancaster have housing prepared, as well as a local family willing to befriend them and introduce them to the local community.
Working with a grant provided by the federal government and donations from nonprofit organizations and individuals, the local family furnishes the refugees’ new home, supplying their immediate needs as well as their rent for the first few months.
They also will make a connection with the previous Syrian family that arrived here in June. Coincidentally, Baer said, the two families know each other from their time in the same Jordan refugee camp.
“The world is so big, and yet so small sometimes,” Baer said.
Here, she said, they will live within walking distance of each other, so they can build on that familiar bond.
“The response of the community really means something in refugee resettlement,” Baer said. “Continuing to be a community where we’re going to say we welcome the people who are trying to build a safe life for themselves ... speaks a lot to who we are in Lancaster County.”
Drop in the bucket
Refugees who come here must cut through a lot of red tape, Baer said.
“There is layer upon layer of security and health screenings,” she said. “They go through a battery of background checks before they are ... allowed to come to the United States.”
Those who make it, Baer said, are “a drop in the bucket” compared to those who don’t.
“We bring in 300 individuals (to Lancaster) per year,” she said. “That number is very manageable for us. ... It’s not as though hundreds of refugees, or thousands of refugees, are arriving every month.”
Fewer than 1 percent of the world’s refugees resettle in another country, she noted — often spending decades in refugee camps first.
According to Church World Service, more than 4 million Syrians are seeking refuge in Middle Eastern and European nations. More than 7 million are displaced within Syria.
That’s up from about 2,000 Syrians who relocated to the U.S. over the past year.