YWCA Tulsa takes pro-refugee stance

The group made it clear it stands ready to help

As some governors try to ban Syrian refugees from coming to their states, a Tulsa organization has taken a much different approach.

YWCA Tulsa posted a statement on its Facebook page Monday, with the comment "In light of recent statements made by state and local officials, we wanted to share YWCA's policy on providing services to Syrian refugees. Please share!"

KRMG spoke with the group's CEO, Vanessa Finley, Tuesday afternoon.

She said the group's goals are clear-cut.

"Our mission is to eliminate racism, empower women, and promote peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all. And when we say for all, we mean for all. That is men, women, adults, children, all religions, all races and creeds, gender identity, you name it," she told KRMG.

"We take our mission very seriously, and we just wanted to make a statement on behalf of our clients that Syrians, in and of themselves, are not dangerous people. They are, right now, fleeing violence and persecution in their home country, and we want to demonstrate that we are a welcoming organization, and prepared to service their needs as we have for a hundred years in this community."

Catholic Charities of Tulsa handles the initial process with political refugees, helping them get to their new home, finding them a place to live, taking care of basic requirements.

At that point, the YWCA gets involved.

"We are helping them find a job, which includes job orientation and cultural orientation, working with businesses. We're helping them learn English, because we know that's at the core of any success for any immigrant in our community. And then of course green cards, and passports ultimately, and all the way down to full naturalization if that's what they want to do."

She said the organization works with those who are in the country legally, either because of refugee status or with proper documentation of their status.

YWCA serves roughly 14,000 immigrants and refugees annually.

Here's the full statement as released Monday:

Tulsa, Okla. – Although no direct orders have been received from the Office of Refugee Resettlement, YWCA Tulsa stands at the ready to serve Syrian refugees.

YWCA Tulsa currently serves approximately 14,000 immigrants and refugees annually. Services provided directly to refugees include employment assistance (job search, job readiness courses, resume assistance, and job referrals and placement); legal permanent residency or "green card" applications; case management; English classes; interpreting and translation services; social service referrals; and legal consultations.

"As an organization that provides direct services to refugees on behalf of the U.S. government, we do not control who is chosen to resettle in Tulsa. However, if our city is selected to receive Syrian refugees, this would actually be the third wave of Arab migrants into Oklahoma, going back as far as the late 1800s," said Mana Tahaie, director of mission impact for YWCA Tulsa.

According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, Middle Easterners originally traveled to the United States for various reasons. Some were enamored with American culture; others were driven out of their countries by poverty or ruthless Ottoman rule. The first Syrians to come to Oklahoma were Alexander Nader and A.S. Kouri in 1895. A few hundred self-identified "Syrians" occupied the Sooner State within 15 years. Census records in1980 recorded 656 Oklahomans born in Lebanon; 3,193 in Iran; and 224 in Turkey from a second wave of migrants in the late 70s and early 80s.

Today, more than 5,000 refugees from all corners of the globe call Tulsa home, and the majority have been served by YWCA Tulsa.

"Tulsa is known as a welcoming community with conservative roots and ideals," said Christy Huff, director of immigrant and refugee services for YWCA Tulsa. "We have a rich history of serving those who are in need of our help, and I have no doubts that our city, if called upon, will rise to the occasion yet again."

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