The women and children at Asylee Women Enterprise (AWE), a 2017 grantee, come from all walks of life.
There are doctors and lawyers and nursers and those with little eduction. They come from countries around the globe - Syria, Cameroon, Russia, Nigeria and Burundi, to name a few. Yet, in spite of these differences, these women and children have come to Asylee for the same reason. They are all seeking asylum in the United States.
AWE works with these women and children to rebuild their lives while they pursue asylum. More than 80% of the women served by AWE are torture survivors. Alone without family or friends and frequently unable to speak or understand English, they turn to AWE for help.
AWE, founded in 2011 by a group of Catholic sisters working together to provide housing and a network of community to women seeking asylum, is a secular organization open to all asylum seekers. In the former convent on Frankford Avenue that now houses AWE, more than fifty women and children are learning English, polishing up their job readiness skills, engaging in wellness activities, such as yoga and meditation, and learning about Baltimore. AWE also provides transitional housing for 27 women and children (plus 3 men) and is the largest provider of transitional housing for asylum seekers in the Mid-Atlantic region.
The biggest challenge Asylee faces is keeping up with the ever increasing demand. This year, Asylee has already served 200 people and expects the number to increase next year.
There is a nationwide backlog of more than 600,000 pending asylum applications, and the average wait time is more than three years. Asylum-seekers must prove that they have been persecuted or fear persecution because of race, religion, nationality, or membership in a particular social group or political opinion. Less than half of all asylum applications are approved.
AWE asylum-seeker is not entitled to social services nor can an asylum-seeker legally work in the US without a work permit. After an asylum-seeker has submitted an application for asylum, she must wait 150 days before filing for a work permit. Then, she can wait up to four months before obtaining a work permit.
AS a consequence, many of the women served by AWE are not yet able to go to work (and hence, cannot be self-sufficient). AWE offers a variety of programs during that period. Classes are held Mondays through Thursdays to teach English, assist in preparing resumes, help build skills and introduce the women to Baltimore. As part of the program, AWE invites speakers to address diverse topics such as child safety and nutrition. AWE also maintains a well-stocked pantry which, through partnerships with Costco and Trader Joe’s, provides staples, fresh vegetables and fruit and even non-food items such as diapers.
Many women come to AWE before even filing an application for asylum, AWE, in collaboration with Human Rights First, holds a monthly legal workshop to provide information about the asylum process. In these daylong workshops, a lawyer provided by Human Rights First assists women in completing asylum applications As AWE Director Tiffany Nelms said, “One Hundred Fifty applications have been filed that wouldn’t have been done otherwise.”
Once a woman receives a work permit, AWE assists in locating a job. Working with another Circle grantee, Caroline Center, AWE has been able to enroll several women in Caroline Center’s Certified Nurse Assistant and Pharmacy Technician career training program.
The high percentage of women at AWE who have been tortured and abused, mental health assistance is a critical component of care for the women. Through a partnership with the Intercultural Counseling Connection, AWE provides on-site individual one hour counseling sessions and group sessions, free of charge, along with an interpreter when necessary.