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For the Least of These: Welcoming Refugee Children

As part of UN Day on Oct. 26, Gonzaga University in Spokane hosted a talk by Micah Spangler, Deputy Director of Legislative Affairs for the Better World Campaign, on how citizens can help with the global refugee crisis. Three Sisters of the Holy Names participated along with Sally Duffy, Associate, who submitted the article below after attending a separate workshop on resettlement of refugee children.

Images of unaccompanied children riding the infamous “Death Train” through Central America, captured on film by Catholic Relief Services, made a stark backdrop for a recent workshop on a new refugee program in Spokane, WA.

For many of these children – desperate to escape trafficking, drug-related violence, hopelessness and a life of fear – there is no happy ending. But thanks to programs such as the one starting in Spokane, some will find loving homes, new friends and an education.

Sally Duffy, Associate, participated in the workshop to learn about Spokane’s recent designation as one of 23 programs in the U.S. to accept unaccompanied refugee minors. According to workshop leaders, the United States is the only country in the world to offer a resettlement process for unaccompanied refugee youth. 

The Unaccompanied Refugee Minor Program in Spokane is headed up by Lutheran Community Services, which has been a partner in past local SNJM anti-trafficking efforts. Catholic Relief Services is involved in the same program elsewhere, including in Seattle. As Pope Francis has said of such social justice partnerships worldwide, “We walk together.”

A handful of children will be arriving in Spokane next summer. Lutheran Community Services hopes to resettle as many as 30 by fall 2017, says director Lisa Johnson. While the program embraces children from around the world, leaders of the Spokane program hope that about half will come from the Central American nations of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

Pope Francis focused on migration from Central America during his recent visit to the United States, according to a CRS news release. “Migrants and refugees fleeing through Mexico are very vulnerable to kidnapping, extortion, assault and even death,” said Roberto Rojas, CRS Advisor for Hispanic Outreach.

Not all of the children who survive the hazardous journey to the U.S. are fortunate enough to find their way to welcoming homes. The number of refugees who can be accommodated in Spokane depends on how many local residents find it in their hearts and have the means to become foster parents.

Those who do will undergo recruiting, screening and licensing similar to the process for domestic foster parents, but with additional training. Next, Lutheran Community Services will work to match families with a child waiting for placement. Families will receive a stipend and support from a social worker to assist with adjustment.

At present, two Spokane families have agreed to be foster parents. One is taking two sisters from the East African country of Eritrea and the other is taking a boy from Burma.

Foster parenting is not the only way to support the program, which also welcomes volunteer tutors and drivers. But Johnson hopes to recruit more parents in the region.

“It’s heartbreaking to look at the list and you see child after child after child…who’s been sitting in a refugee camp” with nowhere to go, she said in a recent article. “Let’s get them here.”

For more details about the Unaccompanied Refugee Minor Program, please click here. You can also read more about the program in the Spokane Journal of Business.

For more details about the UN Day presentation at Gonzaga University, please send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or read about the UN Foundation's Adopt-A-Future Campaign to raise money for refugee education at www.unausa.org/programs/adopt-a-future.

In the photo, L-R: Mary Ann O'Mara, SNJM, Sally Duffy, Associate, Anne Bosserman, SNJM and Karen Conlin, SNJM at Gonzaga University’s UN Day program.