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Posted on: December 27, 2016


(Paterson, NJ) - As 2016 draws to a close, about 120 Syrian refugees who arrived to the Paterson area in recent months are struggling to prepare for winter and put down roots in their new American home after fleeing a war zone. Fortunately, a local elected official and charity have teamed up, with support from dozens of local residents, to help the refugees prepare for winter and celebrate the new year together.

“We wanted to do two things at once: get these children and their parents some of the things they need, and help them overcome any feelings of isolation by gathering to celebrate with families like theirs,” said Passaic County Freeholder John Bartlett. “The response has been amazing. In just a few weeks, we’ve raised about $10,000 and donors from Passaic and Essex Counties have ‘adopted’ a refugee family by shopping to provide the basic needs for these refugees’ first northeastern U.S. winter: warm coats, sweaters, shoes, boots, and more.”

“We now have 15 families in the Paterson area, all of them with children and most of them arrived in 2016,” said Sikander Khan, Executive Director of Global Emergency Response & Assistance (GERA), an organization that is helping Syrian refugee families resettle in northern New Jersey. “The transitional assistance they get from resettlement agencies typically lasts only a few months, but after that many refugees are still struggling to meet their families’ basic needs, learn English, find work and transportation, access needed medical and mental health care, and cope with the challenges of starting a new life in a new place with little social support.”

GERA’s work was inspired by the work of Peter Kassig, a former U.S. Army Ranger who was captured and killed by ISIS while delivering aid to refugees through his own charity. Khan, who served with U.S. forces in Afghanistan, founded GERA with classmates at the School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University as a way to carry forward Kassig’s work with a focus on war refugees settling in the United States. Khan also serves as Freeholder Bartlett’s part-time aide.

GERA volunteers have provided hundreds of hours of basic support to refugee families in New Jersey, including meeting with the families, serving as their advocates on issues like children’s placement in schools, and helping them access the social service agencies and religious congregations that can provide support after the refugees’ initial assistance runs out.

In addition to several dozen families already in Passaic and Hudson Counties, an additional 500+ refugees are expected to arrive to northern New Jersey in 2017, Khan said.

“The celebration on December 29 is not just about giving our refugees the things they need, but also about helping them escape the stresses and isolation of their current situation and just celebrate for a few hours,” Bartlett said. “In addition to donors and friends, various educational and social service agencies will be on-hand to provide advice and support to the refugee families, along with fun kids’ activities like face painting and balloon animals.”

Bartlett added that he has spoken to many groups, particularly church congregations, who are interested in developing a continuing effort to support these families in Passaic County, help them integrate and learn English and get on their feet in 2017 and beyond.

People interested in participating in these efforts, or contributing to the needs of these and future refugee families, can contact Freeholder John Bartlett and GERA on-line at www.johnbartlett.com and www.gera-ngo.org, respectively.

In 2015, the Passaic County Freeholders unanimously reaffirmed that the County “is a place where all are welcome and where those fleeing persecution may find safe refuge,” with a resolution that critiqued Governor Chris Christie’s anti-refugee stance and celebrated Passaic County’s place among the most ethnically and religiously diverse places in the United States.

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