Refugee community responds to news of World Relief Nashville clo - WSMV News 4

Refugee community responds to news of World Relief Nashville closing

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An agency that has helped thousands of refugee families get a new life in Nashville is closing its doors due to the executive orders on immigration.

This news has come as a shock to many in the refugee and immigrant communities who credit World Relief with giving them a new chance at a life freedom.

Sadiq Rahmatullah has been in America about six years. He was born in Burma and fled to Malaysia as a baby with his family to escape ethnic cleansing and persecution.

Their lives changed when they got the chance to move to the U.S. Staff from World Relief Nashville were waiting for them at the airport.

"Somebody was waiting for us calling our name,” Rahmatullah said about his arrival at the Nashville airport. “They said ‘Welcome. You guys got a new home here.’ We were so happy. We are so happy that we really are going to have a future in this country."

For Rahmatullah, life in America meant a chance to feel human again, free of discrimination. It also meant he could achieve one of his top goals: getting an education. He graduated Overton High School last year and is now student at Nashville State Community College.

He learned Thursday morning that World Relief Nashville would be shutting down.

"It's really sad for me because I'm here. My family is here. We are in a safer country in the world. So we have a future in this country, but some people they cannot get in like the third country," he said.

The agency serves around 800 refugee families a year in Nashville, helping them find housing, offering job training, and even providing food, clothes and basic needs.

The group says the executive order on immigration has caused fewer refugees to come in, which has reduced allotted funding and resources for World Relief, which led to fewer staff needs. Some agencies had to cut back. Nashville and four other offices will have to close.

Fady Al-Hagal is the interim executive director of World Relief Nashville.

"The reduction of the number of arriving new refugees from 110,000 to 50,000, reduces the number of arrivals dramatically to the point that the resources that were needed and budgeted for 110,000 are not available," Al-Hagal said. "We depended on these resources administratively and for service purposes to really offer the services the refugees needed.

"We are just as surprised of the impact that this makes on our organization and on the city of Nashville and the nation as a whole," Al-Hagal added. "This is not just about a job. It's relational. It's how they [the staff] feel about the relationships they built for years with the refugee community. So, it's really heavy on our staff," he continued.

Leah Hashinger is the director of ESL to Go with the Tennessee Foreign Language Institute. She visits World Relief each week to do placement evaluations for language classes.

"It's the best part of my week," Hashinger said. "It's something that I look forward to. I love meeting new clients. I love interacting with World Relief staff. They're the most servant-hearted passionate people. I've gotten to know so many different refugee families from Iraq, from Burma, from Syria whom I've become really close with, and World Relief was their gateway to America, so it breaks my heart that that door is being closed."

Staff at World Relief spent most of the day making calls to other agencies in town, starting the work to eventually get families transferred and tapped into new resources that will help new Americans.

"There are two really strong resettlement agencies left in Nashville," Hashinger said. "We have Catholic Charities and the Nashville International Center for Environment. I hope that those resettlement agencies step up and fill some of the gaps that will be left from World Relief leaving."

World Relief does not yet have a clear timeline on when they will have to close. It could be a few months.

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