Since the beginning of Covid-19, the Coalition of Refugee Service Agencies (CRSA) has not had the opportunity to meet in person. Meetings were held virtually. The desire to meet in person was fulfilled on Saturday, September 23rd when CRSA met for the 2022 annual retreat at the Clarkston Community Center.
Representatives from almost every member organization attended and new members were welcomed. This was the opportunity to welcome Georgia Asylum and Immigration Network as the newest member of CRSA. Global Village Project was represented by Mr. Crispin Ilombe Wilondja, the student and community engagement manager.
The retreat was facilitated by Dr. Kyle Lambelet, Candler School of Theology, Emory University. During the retreat, participants had to respond to 4 questions. First, why do we do what we do? Second, what are CRSA’s accomplishments since it started ten years ago? Third, what lessons have we learned? And finally, what will and can we commit to?
It was impressive to listen to one another sharing different responses on why we do what we do. Mr. Crispin shared his own experience; his special journey from fleeing his home country to becoming an asylum seeker; a case worker and working now for GVP. Participants agreed that “we choose this work because we believe it is meaningful and provides an opportunity to use whatever skills, talents and privileges we have in service of others.” In addition, participants realized that finding common ground with lawmakers, as well as among ourselves, is important and a way to move policy.
Looking back at what has been accomplished by CRSA, participants were very proud of themselves. In fact, convening the first meeting of CRSA in November 2011, CRSA negotiated to save Georgia’s refugee program in 2012 and was able to launch the New American Celebration in 2014 and to bring the World Refugee Day Celebration to Clarkston in 2015. Coming together, CRSA responded to the Executive Order requiring state and local consent to continue the refugee program in 2019. In 2021, the state of Georgia unanimously passed legislation to create the state’s first bipartisan study committee to expand opportunities for Georgia refugees and immigrants. And for the first time ever, the CRSA welcomed a Georgia Senator (Jon Ossoff) to the World Refugee Day in Clarkton in 2022.
For more than a decade of existence, CRSA has learned a lot. Participants acknowledged that CRSA has the power and potential to build a strong and sustainable foundation of bipartisan support for refugees and immigrants, but the capacity continues to be an issue. They also expressed the interest in hiring a CRSA coordinator to help keep the coalition running when members have limited capacity to engage.
Based on its mission and vision, CRSA committed to achieve its goals by engaging refugee and immigrant service agencies in advocacy to effect policy change at the Local, state and federal level.
The retreat ended in joy for all participants with all members writing down what they will commit to do with the CRSA in the coming year. A wonderful lunch was generously provided by the Eritrean American Community.