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World Relief asylum seekers Koffi and Emefa find support in the H.O.M.E. Program

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The Need

On August 31, 2022, the first bus of asylum seekers from Texas arrived in Chicago, originally coming from countries like Colombia, Nicaragua, and Venezuela and traveling to the southern border of the U.S. to make asylum claims. Since then, 10,000 asylum seekers have come to Chicago in search of safety from violence and persecution, but in need of help to rebuild their lives. This influx of new asylum seeker arrivals has required a collaborative response by the city, state, faith communities, and local organizations – but in reality, asylum seekers have long been among the most vulnerable members of the immigrant community.

Like refugees, asylum seekers come to the U.S. in search of safety from violence and persecution. Many do not have homes to return to and fled their countries in fear for their lives – escaping torture or death on the basis of their religion, ethnicity, or other identity. However, unlike refugees, there is a lack of support for asylum seekers when they get here. They often do not have any source of income, access to benefits, the legal authorization to work, safe housing, or social connections. They do not have help from the federal government or help like that given to refugees.

After applying for asylum, many asylum seekers wait for months before they can make their case before U.S. adjudicators. During this time, lack of income or the legal opportunity to earn an income make them extremely vulnerable to poverty, homelessness, and exploitation. This forces some asylum seekers to work illegally, which can threaten their immigration prospects. And because many do not have English fluency, knowledge of the U.S. immigration system, or documentation of their experiences, presenting the legal case for asylum can prove challenging.

Kingdom Charitable Trust

The Kingdom Charitable Trust is partnering with World Relief Chicagoland to serve asylum seekers by supporting the Asylum Project, which connects asylum seekers with holistic case management, meaningful volunteer connections, and vital legal information and support. This grant funding is helping people like Koffi and Emefa, asylum seekers from Togo.

When Koffi and Emefa arrived in the U.S., they met obstacle after obstacle. By the time they came to World Relief’s Chicago, the couple was homeless. They were couch surfing and moving place to place. As a result, they were very worried about the future – particularly because Emefa was due to give birth to a baby girl very soon. When they walked through World Relief’s doors, they quickly became connected to the new Asylum Project, which provides asylum seekers with holistic case management, legal services, and connections to volunteers in the community.

Koffi and Emefa got help applying for work authorization, finding housing, and accessing benefits and healthcare – which was especially important for Emefa, who needed to attend prenatal checkups and make a birth plan. Then the family matched with a volunteer team from a local church. These volunteers committed to walking with Koffi and Emefa for six months, providing meaningful support and covering rent costs while Koffi and Emefa waited for their work permits.

The team fundraised among friends and family to cover six months of rent for the couple, hosted a baby shower when Emefa was expecting their first baby, brought the new family of three home from the hospital when baby Vicky was born, and shared regular meals together throughout 2022. However, the team also learned that there was a power in simply bearing witness to each other’s lives. Team member Ashlee shared, “Just spending time with them and hearing the little bits and secrets of their story reminds me that you never know what someone has gone through. It’s been eye-opening to learn people’s journeys to get here and the trials they’ve gone through.” 

However, as they began gaining stability, there was still one part of Koffi and Emefa’s life that was uncertain: their legal future in the U.S. With very limited English fluency and no familiarity with the U.S. legal system, making their asylum case would be very difficult. Thankfully, through World Relief, Koffi and Emefa were introduced to an immigration attorney who provided them with legal help to prepare and file their asylum case.

This spring, after months of waiting, Koffi and Emefa learned that they were approved for asylum. When they visited World Relief offices to share the news, Koffi’s face broke out into a bright smile. “You were approved for asylum?” asked World Relief staff. “Yes! Asylum!” Koffi replied excitedly while Emefa bounced a laughing baby Vicky on her lap. Today, as asylees, the family has gained stable housing, jobs, and confidence that they have a bright future in the U.S.

With grant funding from the Kingdom Charitable Trust, there will certainly be many more stories like this in the future – examples of your generosity is helping families are rebuilding lives after trauma and displacement and regain hope after losing so much. Thank you to the Kingdom Charitable Trust for making this kind of impact possible for many more asylum seekers in the community.

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