Bowdoin students and community members gathered in the Great Room of 30 College on Monday night for an intimate conversation about refugee resettlement with Salim Salim ’20 and Deacon Dean Lachance, the chief operating officer of Catholic Charities in Maine.
Catholic Charities is one of nine volunteer organizations in the United States approved by the federal government as an official refugee resettlement agency, and it is currently the only one operating in Maine. Through legal and interpretational services, mentoring programs and case management, Catholic Charities assists with resettlement, employment and cultural adjustment for refugees arriving in Maine.
Over the course of the evening, Lachance and Salim discussed the work of Catholic Charities and the complexity of the resettlement process.
“You have to meet the physical requirements; you have to be able to travel; you have to [have] the ability to prove that you’re not a threat to yourself and others … You have to prove that you’re not going to be a threat to the country you’re going to,” said Lachance. “And once you get through that whole two-year process and more, you might get selected.”
According to Lachance, the challenges refugees face don’t stop when they arrive in a new country, and this is where Catholic Charities steps in.
“[Refugees] immediately [have] additional challenges thrown upon them that they don’t deserve,” he said.
Salim has personal experience with the process of entering the United States as a refugee and with the work of Catholic Charities—he and his family arrived in Portland, Maine from Mosul, Iraq as refugees in 2010. He emphasized the value of including personal narratives, like his own, in broader discussions about refugees and immigration.
“I think that providing narratives will comfort people and [allow them to] put a face on what the media labels an immigrant or what the media may label as a terrorist,” said Salim. “It’s just so important because, at the end of the day, yes, I’m an immigrant. Yes, I’m Muslim. But I’m also just Salim. I’m me. I have interests. I have hobbies. I have career dreams, just like everyone else.”
The event, hosted by the Catholic Students Union and organized by Viviane Kostin ’19, provided a space for a nuanced discussion of the technical, legal and personal obstacles refugees face.
“We realized 30 College was a [good] space to have a discussion like this and to really give those two—Salim and Deacon Lachance—the space … to have a discussion and share their stories and knowledge,” said Kostin.
Kostin hoped the event would provide insight for students to better understand their privileges and responsibilities.
“We were hoping to create a space to learn a bit more and prompt some discussion and curiosity and engagement,” she said.
Salim noted that open discussion of the complexities surrounding the refugee process will only become more important as Bowdoin looks to become even more accessible to students of all backgrounds.
“I am not the first or last person to go through an immigration process. And I sure have it better … than a lot of other people,” said Salim. “But I think being here and getting to share this story will hopefully make Bowdoin a better place for the next generations of immigrants to come, because they are the ones who really fight to make change on campus and share themselves with the world.”