Christian Agency Fires 140 Staff Helping Refugees As 'A Direct Result' Of Trump's Executive Order

Demonstrations at Chicago's O'Hare Airport protest at Donald Trump's refugee ban. Now, one of the nine US organisations which help resettle refugees has announced that it is letting go around 140 staff members.Reuters

Citing Donald Trump's policies, one of the nine US organisations that work with the United Nation's refugee programme announced yesterday that it is letting go of around 140 staff members and closing five offices that have resettled more than 25,000 refugees.

The evangelical relief and development agency World Relief called the decision 'a direct result of the recent decision by the Trump Administration', referring to the new president's executive order last month temporarily blocking travel and asylum from seven majority Muslim countries.

'It will impact all nine resettlement agencies, so the infrastructure for refugee resettlement in our country – built over decades, at least since the Refugee Act of 1980 – could be decimated,' Matthew Soerens of World Relief said in a statement reported by the Washington Post.

In 2015, World Relief received around $42 million in government grants, which made up nearly three quarters of the ministry's total revenue of $62 million, according to the ministry's latest available Internal Revenue Service filings. It will close offices in Boise, Idaho; Columbus, Ohio; Miami; Nashville; and Glen Burnie, Maryland.

Most of the agencies that help welcome refugees are religious, including World Relief and the US Catholic Bishops' Conference, which raises funding from donors and churches.

The US Refugee Resettlement Program combines funding from the federal government with money raised by non-profit agencies.

The Episcopal Migration Ministries was expecting $14.2 million from the US State Department and $6.2 million from the Department of Health and Human Services, according to spokeswoman Kendall Martin. They are now working to raise private support. Martin said that on February 8 the Episcopal Church's executive council gave the agency $500,000 to provide a financial bridge during Trump's ban.

Soerens said that most federal funding for World Relief comes in a one-off, per-refugee grant of $2,025, most of which gets used for direct expenses for newly arrived refugees during their first 90 days in the country, including covering rent costs for the family's apartment and a caseworker.

Trump's temporary halt on all refugee resettlement means the agencies need to find non-governmental funding to cover the budget that they expected to be covered by refugee resettlement grants.

Even though Trump's order has faced legal challenges, and been blocked by a federal judge, the courts have not addressed the section that reduces the cap on refugee admissions from 110,000 to 50,000.

Trump said in his executive order on January 27: 'I hereby proclaim that the entry of more than 50,000 refugees in fiscal year 2017 would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, and thus suspend any such entry until such time as I determine that additional admissions would be in the national interest.'

The US has already resettled 34,000 this year, according to Soerens, and therefore fewer than 16,000 additional refugees will be allowed through on 30 September.

World Relief takes in around 10 per cent of the total cases, according to Soerens, so the ministry anticipates it will receive somewhere around 1,600 refugees to arrive in the next seven and a half months, distributed through its offices throughout the country. In the past six months, World Relief resettled more than 6,000 refugees.

The agency's President Scott Arbeiter said in a statement that the forced sackings will affect many experts in handling refugees, including some who speak languages that are not widely spoken. 'This represents a loss of more than 140 jobs – which by itself is deeply troubling – but also decades of organisational expertise and invaluable capacity to serve the world's most vulnerable people,' World Relief's chief executive, Tim Breene said.

A spokesperson from the State Department Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration could not be reached yesterday by the Washington Post.

Last week, World Relief coordinated an effort by 100 evangelical pastors and leaders to take out a full-page advertisement in the Washington Post that denounced Trump's executive order. The advertisement included several evangelicals who do not usually get involved in politics, including New York City pastor Tim Keller and his wife, Kathy Keller, and popular author Ann Voskamp, the Post said.