Refugee Background Information

Who Are Refugees?

A refugee is a person who is unwilling to remain in their country because of a well-founded fear of being persecuted or killed for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or for holding certain political opinions.

The Catholic Church is a strong advocate for refugees. As Pope John Paul II said in an address to refugees at a camp in Morong, the Philippines, “The Church is ever mindful that Jesus Christ himself was a refugee, that as a child he had to flee with his parents from his native land in order to escape persecution. In every age therefore the Church feels herself called to help refugees. And she will continue to do so, to the full extent that her limited means allow.”

There are many wrong ideas about refugees. Here is basic information about refugees, including:



Basic Facts and FAQs About Refugees

Here are some basic questions and answers about refugees:

Q. What is the difference between a refugee and an immigrant?

A. An immigrant chooses to go to another land. A refugee is driven from his or her homeland and cannot safely return. Refugees are among the world’s most disadvantaged people. They do not voluntarily leave their homes seeking economic opportunity in another land; they flee because they want to live.

Q. Who decides how many refugees will be allowed to enter the United States?

A. Each year the U.S. Congress and the Administration, with the Department of State, decide: (1) How many refugees will be admitted to the U.S. and (2) The regions/countries from which they will be admitted.

Q. What happens then?

A. Refugees are then screened, including intensive interviews by the U.S. government to determine if they meet refugee criteria.

Q. How many refugees are there in the world?

A. In 2007 there were an estimated 11.4 million refugees worldwide, up from 9.9 million in 2006. Nearly half the refugees were from Afghanistan (3.1 million) and Iraq (2.3 million). About 48,281 refugees from 62 countries (Burma, Somalia and Iran topped the list) were admitted to the U.S. in 2007.

Q. How many refugees have been resettled in the Diocese of Green Bay?

A. Since 1975, more than 5,400 refugees have been resettled in this diocese.

Q. Who is responsible for getting refugees resettled in the United States?

A. The U.S. government contracts with 10 Voluntary Agencies (VOLAGS), which usually are religiously affiliated. These VOLAGS provide a variety of services to help refugees get established in the U.S. and to ensure that their basic needs are met. The United States Conference Catholic of Catholic Bishops is the largest of these VOLAGS because of its affiliation with dioceses across the country.

Q. In the Diocese of Green Bay who is in charge of resettling refugees?

A. Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Program is a sponsor. With the help of parishes, congregations, groups, and individuals it helps refugees assimilate into the U.S. It helps find housing, tutoring, transportation, a job, or friendship. For refugees to adapt successfully, they must feel that people in their new communities welcome them in their new home.

Q. What role do jobs play in the life of resettled refugees?

A. Early employment is the key to self-sufficiency for refugees. It is one of the most important parts of the resettlement process.

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What the Church Teaches About Refugees

Popes, official Vatican statements and the U.S. Bishops have said many things on behalf of refugees and our need to welcome and care for them. Here is a sampling:


Model for Refugees

The family of Nazareth in exile, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, emigrants and taking refuge in Egypt to escape the fury of an evil king, are the model, the example and the support of all emigrants and pilgrims of every age and every country, of all refugees of any condition who, compelled by persecution and need, are forced to abandon their homeland, their beloved relatives, their neighbors, their dear friends, and move to a foreign land. Pope Pius XII, 1952, “Exsul Familia Nazarethana” (“The Holy Family of Nazareth)


Refugees Have Rights

Refugees are persons and all their rights as persons must be recognized. Pope John XXIII, 1963, Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth”)


Church Must Help Refugees

Emigration provokes such serious and widespread moral and religious crises and takes place with such suffering and such painful consequences that the pastoral ministry of the Church cannot be unconcerned about it; and during these years the more the phenomenon of emigration intensifies and grows worse, the more the concern and care of the diocesan clergy, of religious, and of the Catholic laity must intervene and demonstrate a speedy and multiple capacity to bring comfort and help to emigrants which is up to the level of their need, which today has grown and is urgent. Pope Paul VI, 1963, Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees


Part of the Church's Mission

The fact that the Church carries out extensive relief efforts on behalf of refugees, especially in recent years, should not be a source of surprise to anyone. Indeed this is an integral part of the Church's mission in the world. Pope John Paul II, 1981, Refugee Camp in Morong, the Philippines


Refugees Are Our Neighbor

Be for all an incentive to live brotherly love to the full without making any kind of distinction and without discrimination, in the conviction that any one who needs us and whom we can help is our neighbor. . . . The entire Gospel message is condensed in love, and authentic disciples of Christ are recognized by the mutual love they bear one another and by their acceptance of all. Pope Benedict XVI, Message for the 95th World Day of Migrants and Refugees (2009)


Responsibility to Offer Hospitality, Solidarity, Assistance

The responsibility to offer refugees hospitality, solidarity and assistance lies first of all with the local Church. She is called on to incarnate the demands of the Gospel, reaching out without distinction towards these people in their moment of need and solitude. Her task takes on various forms: personal contact; defense of the rights of individuals and groups; the denunciation of the injustices that are at the root of this evil; action for the adoption of laws that will guarantee their effective protection; education against xenophobia; the creation of groups of volunteers and of emergency funds; pastoral care. She also seeks to instil in refugees a respectful behavior and an openness towards the host country. Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, 1992, Refugees, a Challenge to Solidarity


God's Messenger to Us

The "foreigner" is God's messenger who surprises us and interrupts the regularity and logic of daily life, bringing near those who are far away. In 'foreigners' the Church sees Christ who 'pitches His tent among us' (cf. Jn 1:14) and who "knocks at our door" (cf. Rev 3:20). Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, 2004, “Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi” (“The Love of Christ Towards Migrants”)


See the Face of Jesus

Refugees are among the strangers we are called to welcome today. . . . We must not fail to see in each refugee the face of Jesus . . . and then to respond to that person as we understand Jesus Christ would. U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration

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Refugees Are a Resource for the Future ...
Not a Burden of the Present Without Any Future

Common Myths About Refugees

Refugees are individuals or families who seek safety outside their country because of well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or because of political opinions. There are many myths about refugees that are far different from the truth. Here is a look at those myths – and the truth behind them.

MYTH 1: Refugees come here for economic reasons.

FACT: Refugees are individuals or families who come here because they had to flee their homeland and are unable to return because of persecution or fear of persecution. Most refugees would rather live and work in their native country.

MYTH 2: The U.S. is the only country to take refugees.

FACT: More than a dozen countries resettle refugees. Some of the major countries are: Australia, Canada, France, Israel, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Each year, the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. is less than one-third of one percent of the total U.S. population.

MYTH 3: Refugees automatically receive special money from the U.S. government.

FACT: The U.S. government does not automatically provide refugees with money when they arrive here. While there are benefits available for needy refugees, refugees — just like U.S. citizens — must apply for these benefits and meet an income and resource test to qualify for any assistance.

MYTH 4: Refugees Do not pay taxes.

FACT: Refugees pay federal, state and local taxes the same as any citizen living in the United States. There are no special rules that give refugees a tax break.

MYTH 5: Refugees take jobs from Americans.

FACT: Refugees must apply and compete for jobs the same as any citizen or resident alien. Refugees also make jobs. They open new businesses that employ refugees and others living in the community. Refugees bring new energy and creativity into U.S. communities.

MYTH 6: The U.S. spends millions of dollars every month supporting refugees.

FACT: Statistics have shown that refugees pay considerably more in taxes than the cost of services they use. Refugees also increase the community's tax base because they purchase goods and services in the local community.

MYTH 7: Refugees do not contribute or participate in this society.

FACT: Refugees contribute a great wealth to this country through their culture and customs. They are also a great resource. Many significant scientists, artists and community leaders came here as refugees.

MYTH 8: Refugees do not want to learn English.

FACT: Most refugees want to learn English and enroll in classes to study English as a Second Language (ESL).

MYTH 9: Refugees all are on Welfare.

FACT: There is no “welfare” in Wisconsin or in the United States (since 1996). Instead, there are Job Development Programs. People may be provided a small amount of money per month as long as they are working or are in a short-term program leading to employment. In Wisconsin we call this program W-2 (Wisconsin Works). The old “entitlement programs” such as the well-known AFDC Program no longer exist.

MYTH 10: Refugees have their way paid to the U.S.

FACT: Refugees borrow money from an account originally created in the late 1940s. At the end of World War II more than a dozen countries created a fund to help “Displaced Persons” relocate from their devastated homelands, as well as for millions of people unable to return home after the creation of the “Iron Curtain.” The fund continues to loan to refugees, who sign a promissory note to repay the loan. They do not pay interest and they have years to repay the loan. The fund isn’t re-funded; rather it must be self-sustaining, supported by repayments from those who borrow travel loan money. Non-payments are turned over to collection agencies. The repayment level is quite high.

MYTH 11: Refugees bring in diseases.

FACT: Refugees usually are in camps that have health care provided by the International Red Cross, the United Nations, health care providers from the country giving them safe haven and often by philanthropic groups, including faith-based organizations. When a refugee is screened for admittance into a refugee resettlement program he or she is screened to meet the particular requirements of that country. Refugees have a chest x-ray, undergo immunizations, and have various blood work-ups to rule out drug use and infectious diseases. Local health departments are alerted to refugee arrivals in their communities so they can provide follow-up services — especially for those with non-contagious conditions requiring treatment and for continued immunizations.

MYTH 12: Churches bring refugees into local communities.

FACT: Refugee resettlement is a U.S. government program. Each year the President issues a Presidential Determination that sets (1) the number of refugees to be admitted in the following year and (2) the regions of the world from where they will come. Resettlement is carried out by the U.S. Department of State along with the Department of Homeland Security. Teams conduct interviews to determine eligibility for the U.S. program. Refugee resettlement is both a humanitarian gesture and part of U.S. foreign policy. Once the government places refugees into the system to come to the U.S. the responsibility for assisting them locally is subcontracted to humanitarian organizations. Most of the domestic resettlement of refugees is carried out by religious organizations. A few organizations have ethnic ties to the refugees. The local agencies (called voluntary agencies) receive a modest budget from the Department of State. They are responsible for extensive pre-arrival and post-arrival services. They work closely with the resettlement communities to coordinate services to ensure that refugees are received, welcomed and assisted as they begin adjusting to a new land and culture.

Community-based refugee resettlement carries on a time-honored tradition in the United States where newcomers are received and assisted by those who came before. This is the reason that many insurance companies were formed, why fraternal organizations began and ethnic churches and societies thrived in northeast Wisconsin well into the 20th century. Society is not static; it is dynamic. Communities change and grow and adapt. Otherwise, communities shrivel and die.

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Refugee Classifications

Refugees who arrive in the United States fit into one of three categories:

  • Family Reunification Cases -- Applicants abroad have a relative or friend who will assist them here in the U.S. The U.S. relative/friend will be the primary provider of follow-up services with the Resettlement Program providing oversight and support.
  • Free Cases -- Applicants abroad have no known relatives or close friends in the U.S. and are able to be resettled any place where a resettlement agency has the resources to resettle the refugee/s.
  • Secondary Migrants -- Refugees have been resettled in some part of the U.S. but have chosen to leave there and relocate elsewhere. The resettlement agency in the new location has no obligation to assume supervision of the case.

Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Green Bay is currently accepting only Family Reunification Cases. Our mission includes the preservation and support of families. We assist families to reunite and to begin their adjustment to life in a new land. We are not staffed adequately to accept Free Cases which require extensive staff time and significant resources.

Other Catholic Charities programs we operate to help refugees assist Secondary Migrants.

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Refugees' Journey to Northeast Wisconsin

Here is a step-by-step look at how a refugee gets from their home country to Northeast Wisconsin and what happens after arriving here.


Refugee Flees Homeland


United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees
Repatriation (as the situation permits refugees may be able to return to their homeland)
Nationalization (refugees stay in the country they fled to, often in camps)
Third Country Resettlement (less than 1% of refugees are resettled into a third country, such as the United States, which resettled 48,281 refugees in 2007, first among the 14 countries resettling a total of 75,300 refugees)


U.S. Department of State’s Citizenship and Immigration Services (formerly Immigration and Naturalization Service or INS)
Interviews refugeeat Migration Processing Center to determine eligibility for resettlement


Allocation to one of the 10 Domestic Resettlement Agencies (also known as the Volunteer Agencies or VOLAGS), who are the Sponsor for the refugee
Migration & Refugee Services of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (MRS/USCCB) is the largest U.S. VOLAG. In 2007 it resettled 13,631 refugees


Allocation to Local Affiliate Agency
Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Green Bay, Resettlement & Immigration Services


Refugee Notified of Resettlement Site in the U.S. and assigned to the International Organization for Migration
Refugees prepare to enter last stage of processing before they depart. Here they will undergo medical exams, orientation, security background checks and travel arrangements.


Processing Completed
Flight booked. Green Bay office notified of date and place of arrival.


Local Arrival Preparation
Resettlement planning with relatives (if any live in area)
Volunteers assigned to the refugees
Arrangements made for apartment, furniture, food for family or alternative temporary housing.


Refugee Family Arrives
Case Manager/Interpreter, and or relatives/ volunteers greet refugee family at airport, bring to apartment and begin providing Core Services.


Reception and Placement
Core Services provided by local affiliate agency for 90 days after arrival. This includes:
First 30 days: Safe and sanitary housing, furnishings, food or food allowance, necessary clothing, appropiate referrals for additional services, apply for social security cards, help register children in school, transportation to job interviews and job training.
First 90 days: Community and other orientations; Health-orientations & referrals; Follow-up on serious health issues; Employment orientation and referrals; Employment and continuing assistance; Communication with state and local authorities; Assistance to minor children considered unaccompanied; Coordination and consultation with public agencies; Monitoring; Loan collection.


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History of Refugee Resettlement in Green Bay

The word refugee has been used since at least the late 1600s to describe the thousands of people forced from their homelands. Since 1975, the Green Bay Diocese's Catholic Charities' Resettlement and Immigration Services has settled more 5,400 refugees in Northeast Wisconsin.

Much of today's work of resettling refugees grew out of work in the 1940s, after World War II, which left behind 12.5 million displaced persons. In response to the many requests from bishops to help these refugees, Catholic Relief Services became active in the United States.

In 1946, Fr. Aloysius Wycislo (later the eighth Bishop of Green Bay) was appointed director of Catholic Relief Services, stationed in New York. He worked with dioceses across the country to resettle displaced persons. Each diocese was asked to hire a resettlement director. (The first director in Green Bay was Fr. Thaddeus Koszarek in 1949.)

Bringing Refugees to U.S.

Our department (CRS), along with the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (now the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops), began to look at ways to move the refugees, Bishop Wycislo said. We began to seek legislation to bring many of these refugees to this country.

Initial efforts included the Displaced Persons Act (written with the help of CRS), which made exceptions for people with special talents or trades to enter the U.S.

We began to accumulate mountains of affidavits to support the movement of people, Bishop Wycislo said. These affidavits were required by the government to show that the refugees would not be a burden on the United States. We had to make sure they had jobs and a place to live.

Soon after, on July 28, 1951, 26 countries signed the Geneva Convention, the first international agreement spelling out basic human rights. It also recognized the international scope of refugee crises and the necessity of international cooperation.

The convention explained that there are certain standards for how refugees should be treated, said Barbara Biebel, Director of Catholic Charities' Resettlement and Immigration Services.

Protecting Refugees

One cornerstone of protecting refugees is ensuring escape for people facing imprisonment, torture and execution, for reasons such as political or religious beliefs or membership in a particular ethnic or social group. The Geneva Convention has enabled an estimated 50 million people to restart their lives.

In Green Bay, Bishop Wycislo continued his interest in refugees and helped resettle Vietnamese, Hmong and Laotian refugees in Northeast Wisconsin. The Diocese also helped resettle Cuban refugees fleeing the communist government Fidel Castro set up after seizing power in 1959.

In 2007, 48,281 refugees out of the 11.4 million refugees worldwide, were resettled in the United States. After intensive interviews and background checks, refugees are cleared to enter the country. The U.S. government contracts with 10 Voluntary Agencies (VOLAGS), typically religiously affiliated, to settle these refugees. The largest is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which works with local dioceses.

Diocese Sponsors Families

The Green Bay Diocese’s Resettlement Program sponsors refugee families along with parishes, congregations, groups or individuals. Sponsorship includes finding housing, employment, language tutoring and transportation. A major feature of the plan is to remove barriers to employment and provide services leading to early economic independence.

Refugees have known terror; most came to America in search of a new life, and some for life itself, Biebel said. Many of these newcomers to Northeastern Wisconsin tell of fleeing before an enemy who were sometimes formerly neighbors, leaving behind homes, jobs, careers or farms, family members and friends. They hoped to return, but circumstances didn't allow it. Some refugees have been shot.

Beibel said two refugees from Bosnia visibly wear the evidence of their wounds. Members of another extended Bosnian family lost husbands, a son and several other relatives in an attack on their village. The men were rounded up and disappeared. Later, their bodies were discovered in a mass grave, she said.

Biebel appreciates the kindness and generosity of the thousands of people in northeastern Wisconsin who have played a role in welcoming the strangers. And, she cautions that this welcoming effort is especially important in light of current events.

Wars Cause People to Flee

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are causing many people to flee their countries. Many are Muslims. If some come to Wisconsin, they will join fellow Muslim refugees already settled in the Diocese of Green Bay.

Among the refugee families already resettled here is the family of Mohamed Hashi, a part-time case worker for Catholic Charities' Resettlement and Immigration Services who has been in the U.S. since 1999, when he fled his native Somalia. He says life here is good for him, his wife and young daughter.

While most of the tensions caused by the 9-11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. are over, Muslim families in the Green Bay and Fox Cities recall their fears in late 2001.

They were scared to go out in public because of the reaction of people, Hashi said. One woman who lives in Appleton went to the grocery store where she was usually welcomed with a smile and a kind word. After the attacks she was met with no smiles and blank stares. Muslim families at first kept their children home because they were scared of the reaction of people, he said.

Terrorist acts are not consistent with the faith of Islam, Hashi said. The Muslim religion says that if you kill one life, it's like you killed all the people. Like any other religion, it is a sin.

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Want to Help?

Are you or your parish interested in helping resettle refugees? Contact on Refugee and Immigration Services Office at:

The Green Bay Diocese
(920) 272-8234
Toll-free: 1-877-500-3580 ext. 8234


Volunteer Opportunities

  • Transportation -- Drive refugees to appointments, grocery shopping, and so on
  • Tutoring -- Help refugees, referred by local literacy agencies and school systems, with their English skills
  • Job Hunting -- Help refugees find jobs that fit their skills, help fill out applications and drive to interviews
  • Friendship -- Visit newly-arrived refugee families; help orient refugees to the United States
  • Donate furniture and household items to local organizations such as Goodwill or St. Vincent de Paul, which issue vouchers to new refugees to furnish their apartments
  • Dental Care

E-mail our Catholic Charities Volunteer Coordinator

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Downloadable PDFs

Volunteer Handbook


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Refugee Resettlement Brochure


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Refugee Journey Board Game


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Immigration Services Brochure


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Learn more about Catholic Charities' services for refugees and immigrants

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Accredited and Certified

Catholic Charities is nationally accredited by the Council of Services for Families and Children. It also is a state certified mental health clinic, and is licensed by the State of Wisconsin as a child welfare agency.

The Immigration Program is accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeals, U.S. Department of Justice.

council_on_accreditation_logo_blue_short Counseling, Child Welfare, Budget Counseling, Hispanic Outreach, and Immigration Services are accredited by the Council of Accreditation (COA). Accreditation from the Council on Accreditation for Family and Children’s Agencies ensures that Catholic Charities operates under the highest professional standards and best practices in the nation.

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How to Reach Us

For additional information about the Refugee and Immigration Services, please call Catholic Charities at:

The Green Bay Diocese
P.O. Box 23825
Green Bay, WI 54305-3825
(920) 272-8234
Toll-free: 1-877-500-3580 ext. 8234


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