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Church Worldwide: Christian Aid Group Lays Off Staff in Wake of Trump’s Executive Order on Refugees


World Relief has announced it will lay off more than 140 staff members and close five local offices as a “direct result” of President Trump’s order to more than halve the number of refugees resettled this year in the United States. World Relief was established by the National Association of Evangelicals in 1944 in response to the humanitarian crisis in Europe after World War II, according to its website.

The Christian nonprofit is one of nine private agencies contracted with the U.S. government to resettle refugees.

“Our staff at each of these locations have served diligently and sacrificially—some of them for many years—and we are deeply saddened to have to make this difficult decision,” World Relief President Scott Arbeiter said in a written statement released February 15.

The layoffs are a loss of “decades of organizational expertise and invaluable capacity to serve the world’s most vulnerable people,” Arbeiter said.

The cuts affect most of the organization’s local offices, as well as its home office, according to Matthew Soerens, U.S. director of church mobilization at World Relief. The five local offices that will be closed are in Idaho, Ohio, Florida, Tennessee, and Maryland.

Last week, World Relief had brought together hundreds of prominent evangelicals from all 50 states to sign a letter to the president and vice president expressing their support for refugees. Christian Reformed Church executive director Steven Timmermans signed the letter.

Judges have blocked the administration from enforcing parts of Trump’s executive order, which was signed Jan. 27 and has been referred to as a “travel ban.” But the order still effectively caps the number of refugees the U.S. will accept in 2017 at 50,000.

That number had varied between 70,000 and 85,000 under the Obama administration, and former President Obama had put the refugee ceiling for 2017 at 110,000. The New York Times has reported about 30,000 refugees already have been admitted to the U.S. since the fiscal year started in October.

That puts World Relief “over capacity” to serve the number of refugees who will be allowed into the country over the next year, Soerens said. It previously had anticipated it would resettle about 11,000 refugees this year. That number likely will be closer to 5,000—most of whom it already has resettled, he said.

The organization’s most significant source of funding comes in the form of one-time, $2,025 grants it receives for each refugee it resettles from the U.S. State Department, he said. While World Relief anticipates an increase in donations from churches and individuals, he said, it also needs to cut expenses.

It still is looking to the future, unsure where the Trump administration will set the refugee ceiling in 2018.
Soerens said the organization “will always hold on to hope,” but it hasn’t seen any indication the president would raise the number of refugees accepted into the country in a new order.

Another  faith-based agency, Church World Service (CWS), launched an emergency appeal earlier this month to raise $1 million, saying the order “effectively defunds the entire domestic resettlement network, as CWS local offices and affiliates are paid per capita on a reimbursement basis.”

Tim Breene, CEO of World Relief, said in a statement that the organization plans “to continue the critical work of resettling refugees and serving other immigrants in the communities where we serve throughout the United States. . . . We urge the Trump administration to renew and reinvigorate efforts to work together with the global humanitarian community to meet this urgent crisis head on.”

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