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Escaping persecution, asylees settle with the help of Jersey City church
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Escaping persecution, asylees settle with the help of Jersey City church

By Caitlin Mota | The Jersey Journal
on April 04, 2017 at 2:49 PM, updated April 04, 2017 at 3:38 PM

JERSEY CITY -- Tucked away in the attic of a Storms Avenue church, four beds are positioned in each corner of the room. Four men live together in the space and a woman lives directly below them.

Together, they share a furnished kitchen, dining room, and living room complete with a row of computers where they often spend time talking to their families, who are thousands of miles away.

For some, sharing a bedroom with three other men isn't ideal, but for 26-year-old Abu Kassim, his room is more than just a place he sleeps. Kassim, who is from Ethiopia, came to the United States about 18 months ago seeking asylum.

"I don't have any problem," he says with a smile. "We have everything."

Kassim is one of the first five asylees to live at the Church of the Incarnation's "Lighthouse."

The Rev. Deacon Jill Stapleton first envisioned "The Lighthouse" after visiting ICE detainees at the Hudson County jail. Many spent months without visitors and had no living plans once they were finally released, she said.

The church partnered with First Friends of New York and New Jersey to create a transitional home for those who left their war torn and violence stricken homelands for protection in the United States. Those asylees come here with no criminal history.

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, an individual can only apply for asylum if they are already in the country or are looking to enter the United States at "a port of entry." The Immigration and Custom Enforcement may detain individuals while they wait for a judge to grant them asylum.

On his flight from Ethiopia, Kassim met Mahmoud Horsa, 36, who like him, was seeking asylum. They became instant friends, first living in detention together and now sleeping just feet from one another at The Lighthouse.

"Not friends," Horsa says of Kassim. "Like brothers."

A miniature Statue of Liberty sits on each nightstand next to each man's bed -- a gift from the church as a symbol of the freedom the United States affords its citizens, they say.

Kassim, though, worries everyday about his wife, mother, father, and siblings back in Ethiopia.

"I have freedom for myself, but don't have freedom for my family."

Horsa had his own shop in Ethiopia, but the constant fear of death forced him to leave behind his business, his mother, brother, and sister. He saved thousands of dollars from his job before fleeing his home. Nearly all that money has been used to pay legal fees and attorneys, he said.

Both men along with their three roommates - who come from West Africa, Honduras, and Syria - take English as a second language classes in their dining room that doubles as a classroom. The men do their homework at a round table in the middle of their room.

The Lighthouse works with the asylees to help them find work so they can find apartments of their own.

While there's currently only room for six asylees to stay at the Storms Avenue church, Singleton hopes other religious groups will be able to find space at their congregations to help other asylees and refugees.

"Even if somebody can only house one or two people, if every congregation and every place of worship did that we would really be able to take care of housing so many people who are coming out of immigration detention," she said.

The Lighthouse has set up a GoFundMe page to raise money to provide services for asylees as they transition from detention to freedom.

On Sunday afternoon, the group welcomed the asylees at a lunch. All five were grinning ear to ear as they cut into a blue and white cake.

"I'm so happy now," Horsa said. "I feel so good." ... y.html#incart_river_index

Posted on: 2017/4/5 8:34
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