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International Rescue Committee to educate community on refugee crisis
refugee pic
Kevin Brooks of the International Rescue Center helps a refugee learn English in a Vocational English as a Second Language class earlier this year. Residents will have an opportunity to learn more about the IRC and the executive order on Feb. 21 - photo by Photo contributed by Jim Thompson of IRC

In response to the ongoing deliberations surrounding President Donald Trump’s travel ban, the International Rescue Committee office in Turlock hopes to inform the community on what the executive order means for the refugees they assist and how the public can help through an educational event.

“We’ve been receiving a lot of questions from local volunteer and faith groups about what this means for our work and how they can support our work going forward,” said Maggie Berkemeyer, Development Manager for the IRC. “We want to talk about what the future may look like, and also give people a chance to see how they can get involved in this community.”

The IRC helps oversee refugees’ transition into America, from picking them up at the airport to helping them earn their citizenship. The United States is home to 26 IRC offices; there are six offices in California, one of which opened in Turlock in 2004. Since Oct. 1, 2011, over 1,800 refugees have resettled in Turlock thanks to help from the IRC — just over 10 percent of the total number of resettled refugees in the country.

The future of refugees hoping to come to Turlock has been in limbo since Trump signed the executive order on Jan. 27, which suspended travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries and limited the nation’s refugee program. Trial judges around the country have blocked aspects of the order, and Thursday, a three-judge federal appeals panel unanimously refused to reinstate the travel ban.

“When we scheduled this educational event, one thing was happening with the ban and since then, it has changed. It could change again,” said Berkemeyer. “But, some things are constant and aren’t affected by whatever the courts may say about the executive order.”

One such thing is President Trump’s decision to lower the ceiling of admitted refugees from 110,000 to 50,000 this year. In Turlock, it was expected that 550 refugees would arrive during the fiscal year, which began in October. So far, 250 refugees have arrived in Turlock since the beginning of the fiscal year, but it remains unclear if the remaining numbers will be allowed into the country and how it will affect the IRC.

“Right now there is no change in the terms of our arrivals and that won’t happen for a while, but we have to think about the fact that our budget is based on the number of people we are resettling,” said Berkemeyer. “When that’s cut in half, we have to reevaluate the budget and how we are going to maintain services for our clients here if our funding is cut off for a certain period of time.”

Feb. 17 is the last day of guaranteed refugee arrivals in Turlock, and moving forward there is uncertainty among both the IRC and the refugees they help. This is why the IRC is reaching out to the Turlock community, said Berkemeyer.

“In some ways, this may be an opportunity for us to look at our services, especially in Turlock where we traditionally have just done resettlement,” she said. “We can look at ways we can expand our services to serve clients beyond that initial resettlement period, such as helping them to not only get a survival job but also build a career.”

The IRC office in Turlock hopes to do a better job of connecting clients with their new neighbors, and though they’ve been successful in doing so through partnerships with local organizations such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Turlock and mosques in the area, they plan to expand their outreach to form new partnerships throughout the city.

“This has reminded us that there are groups out there who want to be involved,” said Berkemeyer. “It’s important that we give our clients that opportunity to meet their new neighbors, and give the local community the chance to get to know who refugees are and offer their own support.”

Karen Ferguson, Executive Director of the IRC’s Northern California Offices, will be present at the educational event, as well as many other IRC staff members — many of whom are refugees themselves. Those in attendance will be informed on what decisions the IRC must make moving forward, as well as learn about remaining clients who will soon be arriving in Turlock. Attendees will also be informed on how to get involved and advocate for the IRC and incoming refugees.

“In the past, maybe advocacy wasn’t as needed, but now it’s really important,” said Berkemeyer. “Given the changes, there are things we really need the local community to step up and help us with.”

The IRC event, titled “What’s next? Moving forward post-executive order” will be held from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Feb. 21 at Monte Vista Chapel. For more information and to RSVP, visit

Berkemeyer encourages all who wish to help, or even those who are simply curious about the refugee situation in Turlock to attend.

“A lot of people, regardless of where you are on the political spectrum, are looking for different ways to make partnerships and get involved in their community,” said Berkemeyer. “I think there’s really nothing more American than helping to welcome a new American and helping them start their lives.”