Sister Beth Niederpruem has seen her workload at Vive in Buffalo more than double in the weeks following the release of new U.S. policies for immigration. Refugees seeking asylum have overwhelmed the safe house in their efforts to cross over into Canada.
“We currently have between 30 and 40 people more than we can handle at Vive,” said Sister Beth. “We’ve been housing them in parishes and wherever we can find them places to stay.” Some of those at Vive have been in the U.S. for a long time while others have just arrived.
“Everybody is fleeing the country now and we’re coping with the crisis,” said Sister Beth. She noted that while many of Vive’s current residents are looking to get into Canada, “many of them don’t have the credentials. We just had one large family here from Haiti who couldn’t meet the requirements for Canada and they left. I don’t know where they’ve gone or what’s going to happen to them,” she said.
While the number of people being sheltered at Vive has increased, so has the length of their stay. The average was three to four weeks, but Sister Beth says it’s now difficult to tell how long people will be on site. “Things have slowed up at the Canadian border,” she said. “People are going over the border on their own and are getting picked up by authorities and the Canadian system has to deal with those people first.”
Another complication is the makeup of some of the families. “Right now we have two families of 10 people. One family is from Somalia and the other is from Guatemala. Both families are a mix in that some of the children were born abroad and some of the children were born here in the U.S. That’s really a mess,” she said.
As she spoke, Sister Beth was driving a van loaded with pots and pans to one of the temporary housing sites. The refugee center is in desperate need of sheets and blankets for single beds as well as pillows, towels and travel accessories, as it is unlikely the flow of people will slow any time soon.
“The stories we’re hearing,” she said. “It’s really difficult.”
Photo caption: Muwahi Robson and Sister Beth Niederpruem pick up supplies at St. Mary of the Angels in Williamsville, New York where sisters and Franciscan associates generously pooled their resources in support of refugees.