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Volunteer Spotlight: Upper Valley residents needed to help support asylum seekers

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/5/2021 10:05:42 PM
Modified: 5/5/2021 10:05:40 PM

NORWICH — A new nonprofit organization is looking for volunteers to help support asylum seekers in the Upper Valley.

Supporting and Helping Asylees and Refugees — known as SHARe — aims to create support systems for people seeking asylum. Volunteers are needed to host individuals and families. People are also needed to help asylum seekers with transportation and connecting them to community services. Fundraising, education, communications and outreach are also among the volunteer roles SHARe is looking to fill. Translators are also needed to assist folks once they are in the Upper Valley.

“The core concept basically is that we will host asylum seekers in homes in the Upper Valley and then they will be supported in their process filing an asylum application,” said Bill Ploog, one of the founders of SHARe. “Once they’re able to work they’ll be increasingly independent of our support, but we’ll continue to keep in touch and provide assistance and help them with integrating into the community.”

People can learn more at two virtual open houses from 11 a.m. to noon Friday and 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. May 20. Email sharevtnh@gmail.com for the link or for more information.

SHARe started in 2019. It evolved from work that was being done by the United Valley Interfaith Project’s Immigrant Support Network and the Upper Valley Refugee Working Group, Ploog said. UVIP has helped asylum seekers in the Upper Valley find housing and a lawyer and to develop their case for asylum.

“At first there was some expectation and hope that we could settle some refugees here in the Upper Valley, and some research done initially with the refugee settlement agencies indicated that we wouldn’t be high on their list,” Ploog said, adding that they attributed that in part to a lack of housing in the region.

“The justification for refugees and settling refugees and the justification for asylum seekers is exactly the same,” he explained. “These are people who are fleeing persecution. However they differ in one important respect: Refugees come through the United Nations program and (for) asylum seekers to seek asylum you need to be on American soil. You have to get to the U.S. either by flying into the country and requesting asylum or by traveling to the border and requesting asylum at the border.”

During the Trump administration there was concern about the restrictions that were placed on those who were seeking asylum, Ploog said. When Joe Biden was elected, “we knew that asylum would not be destroyed. It was in the process of being taken apart and with his election victory we knew there would be an asylum process in the U.S.”

In 2020, SHARe became an official nonprofit organization, but its work was largely put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, the group is hoping to work with organizations who are at the southern border to sponsor asylum seekers.

“Many of these asylum seekers you see on the news, unless they get into detention, they will be sponsored by some family member of some kind, and if they don’t want to do that or they can’t do that because they don’t have family in the country, then they need someone to volunteer to do it. And that’s what this organization will do,” Ploog said. “It will sponsor and support these folks seeking asylum.”

He also stressed that anyone who hosts an individual asylum seeker or family will not go it alone: There will be monetary and community support. In addition to the host, each asylum seeker will have up to eight other volunteers who can assist them.

Ploog said the organization is hopes to start welcoming asylum seekers to the Upper Valley this summer.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.




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