Muslim Community Center in Brooklyn has housed dozens of migrants for months -- and wants to do more

ByJanice Yu, via
ByNicole Grether and Polo Sandoval, CNN
Monday, May 29, 2023
Brooklyn Muslim center has housed dozens of migrants, seeks to do more
At the Muslim center, beds already line an upstairs living space, along with a small kitchen, bathroom facilities, and a couple of couches.

SUNSET PARK, Brooklyn -- A reminder from the Prophet Muhammad to give to "mankind" is painted outside a nondescript building in South Brooklyn that has opened its doors to migrants of all faiths.

For the past nine months, the Muslim Community Center has collectively housed some 75 asylum seekers. But they want to do more.

"As a Muslim, it's an obligation upon us to help house migrants and people who are travelers and we decided to take that step," Soniya Ali, the center's executive director, told CNN.

The center is among the faith-based organizations that have applied with New York City to house migrants. In turn, the city has signed a contract with New York Disaster Interfaith Services, a faith-based charitable organization, to provide 950 beds for asylum seekers, according to a government official with knowledge of city's plan.

At the Muslim center, beds already line an upstairs living space, along with a small kitchen, bathroom facilities, and a couple of couches. "We have 17 migrants that are staying with us. Each bed is their living space," Ali said.

Each of the 50 "Faith-Based Stabilization Shelters," will hold 19 beds. The city plans to open 10 shelters on July 1st and then open 10 additional shelters each month until November, with an option to extend the contract to open more shelters, according to an official.

However, centers like Ali's will have to meet building codes to house these large groups. "We're supposed to have carbon monoxide detectors, smoke detectors and fire extinguishers along with the sprinkler system," Ali told CNN.

When asked about her motivation for starting the shelter, Ali told CNN she was only five when her family came to the United States from Kashmir.

"I can definitely understand what they are feeling when they talk about their families or children that they left behind or their wives or whomever they left behind because I do have family members that are back home that are not here," Ali said. "And you do feel that sense of longing so I understand that part of their journey and their situation."

"Help." It's the poignant one-word answer from Senegalese migrant Mamadou Deiallo, who has been staying at the shelter since August. His story is a familiar one. Without a legal work authorization and he remains in unemployment limbo.

"This need for the city to help all immigrants," Deiallo told CNN.

Transforming houses of worship into shelters comes as New York continues to look at other venues for shelter space for its nearly 45,000 homeless migrants. Mayor Eric Adams said the city is overextended and cannot continue to support the number of arriving migrants.

Over the next few days, the city and state will work to open an emergency respite center for adult asylum seekers at the former Lincoln Correctional Facility, a City Hall spokesperson told CNN on Sunday.

They said there are no "cells" at the facility in Harlem. The site has been vacant since it closed in 2019, the spokesperson said.

"We're grateful to the state for providing this site and partnering with the city to open this space as a temporary site for asylum seekers as New York City continues to face this humanitarian crisis," the spokesperson told CNN.


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