Global Friends Coalition will resettle up to 30 refugees in Grand Forks next year

Nov. 23—GRAND FORKS — Up to 30 individuals could be resettled in Grand Forks next year after the Global Friends Coalition was accepted as an affiliate of Church World Service.

The coalition issued a press release on Tuesday, Nov. 22, announcing the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) had accepted Global Friends' application for 2023's fiscal year. Global Friends does not know where the refugees will be coming from or when the first will arrive.

"Grand Forks — I think — is well-positioned to be welcoming of newcomers again," Global Friends' Executive Director Cynthia Shabb said. She feels confident that people will "open their arms and be of assistance."

According to the release, the Global Friends Coalition has fostered refugee integration for the past 14 years. With this new stream of funding from the federal government, the coalition will expand their mission to include refugee resettlement.

The application was submitted in May, with a significant amount of work put into it.

"The process was intense," said Shabb. "We basically had ... about a 30-page narrative that we submitted in order to be even considered at the beginning."

In order to provide proof that the community supports refugee resettlement, Global Friends compiled about 10 letters from various organizations and community leaders.

"The letters of support are so strong," Shabb said.

The application also addressed topics such as the perceived capacity for refugees in Grand Forks and how the community would receive them, what community services and public transportation are available, what crime rates are like, if the police department has cultural competency and if schools are prepared to welcome refugee students.

The narrative also addressed who has been resettled in the community in the past, the largest group being Somali refugees.

Within the narrative, Global Friends also explained how it has integrated refugees into the community in the past.

"(We) talked a lot about community belonging and what we've done to try to increase advocacy for refugees," Shabb said.

This will be the first time the Global Friends Coalition takes in refugees and serves as their point of contact. Since Lutheran Social Services closed last year, there has been no local resettlement agency.

"We were formed with the mission of fostering refugee integration, not resettlement," Shabb said. "It just happens to be a time in our world that there's the highest number of refugees ever, and a lot of displaced people out there. ... So the board of Global Friends decided that it was time for us to ... try to assist with refugee resettlement."

Global Friends has previously worked with immigrants to help them with integration. Advocacy work played a large role, as Global Friends went to groups in the community and spoke about refugees — why they're here, who they are, how their lives have changed and how to best support them.

"It does change the work," Shabb said of the new affiliation with Global Church Service and refugee resettlement. "Once people are resettled and we help them become independent, we can still do this advocacy work, but it's under a whole different funding system."

According to Shabb, Global Friends will have a learning curve, especially with making sure refugees have everything they need when they first arrive in the community.

Global Friends will be hiring a case manager to work directly with families. Moving forward, the organization plans to use more of a "wrap-around services" approach with different volunteers addressing different needs.

"We will be accountable to make sure that everybody gets information and assistance," Shabb said. "Getting kids enrolled in school, getting adults enrolled in adult education if they need it, getting people employed, helping with setting up a bank account ... Everything you'd need to be independent."

Shabb said there will be some people who are "a little cautious" about refugee resettlement in Grand Forks.

"There are plenty of jobs right now, so they aren't taking other people's jobs. On the economic development side of things, we need diversity to come in, because there are so many jobs."

Though many, including Shabb, see resettlement as a humanitarian issue, it will also provide economic assistance for the community.

"We've got people that are ready," Shabb said. "This is good."