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Tucson Refugee Ministry seeks to help local refugees

Posted at 4:10 PM, Feb 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-01 20:26:33-05

President Trump recently signed an executive order, not allowing citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries into the United States for 90 days, and refugees for 120 days. Since then, a local group -- the Tucson Refugee Ministry -- is speaking out.

Bill O'Brien and Eugene Elsea both volunteer for the organization. As members of the ministry, they work intimately with refugees, helping them get acclimated to the area -- a new culture, new climate, and new world.

"We don't feel what these people have gone through -- what a day in the Middle East, what a war zone is like," O'Brien said.

"These people are fleeing horrible things," Elsea said. "And we want to be there to support them, regardless of who the are and where they come from, regardless of religion."

The two men are no strangers to war zones in Africa and the Middle East. Both of them, spending time overseas in those parts of the world. With those experiences, they say they can understand some Americans' fear of allowing refugees from war-torn nations into their neighborhoods.

"I know the threat, I spent 20 years in the Army, spent 6 months in Iraq in 2006," Elsea said. "So I understand the concerns -- and the concerns of the administration and the concerns of the people in America."

But -- something many Americans don't realize, according to the duo: many of these refugees are trying to escape from terrorism every single day.

"Protect them from the terrorists in their own country," O'Brien said. "You know, that's hard for us to understand. We kind of lump all Syrians as the same, but they're not."

They are asking both Americans and the new presidential administration to work together to find some kind of middle ground. O'Brien explained he has some family members who are fearful about letting refugees in because they have little experience with non-Americans. He understands why, and agrees there could be some changes to the vetting process.

Elsea says the protests across the nation, at airports and in various cities, are good for demoracy.

"It's what America is all about: the First Amendment," he said. "Say what you believe and stand up for it."

But to the refugees coming to Tucson -- to the country -- America is about something simpler than that.

"They're not worried about First Amendment rights," O'Brien said. "They're worried about survival and safety."

Now, with this executive order in place -- the two say they want to clear up the many misconceptions about refugees: how many are actually being accepted into the country, their purpose for being here, to name a few. They're hoping people take the time to get to know the refugees in their communities.

"Their skin looks a little different maybe, but hey, they've got a heart," O'Brien said. "They want to raise their kids, they want to have a peaceful existence, they want to have good neighbors."

At this point, they are trying to reassure the families they work with that everything will be okay.The

If you are interested in learning more about what the group does and about refugees, the Tucson Refugee Ministry will be having a "Refugee Info Session" on February 6, from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at University City Church.