Current Events

Where the Governors Got it Wrong: Resettling Syrian Refugees in the United States

Source: Jakarta Post

“No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.”

Overview

In the last few days, the world witnessed one of the horrible terror attacks against humanity – the terrorist attack in Paris, which led to 129 people dead. Terror has no place in this world and now it is the time for us to unite to fight terror to the end. Those killed in Paris and other parts of the world were killed because they were free people. People who believe in freedom, liberty, justice, and free will.

The terror attack in Paris unearth issues that need to be addressed diplomatically to bring to an end the Syrian crisis. It is now time to unite our forces and energies against this terror, which means focusing our strategies, tactics, resources, and man power as a united force against IS.

Nevertheless, in the midst of all these people are victims and Syrians and those of North Africa are the primary victims of terrorism. Syrians, in particular, had to go through all the hardships to escape terror at the front of their homes.

They walked thousands of miles, starve in most instances for days, weeks and months just to survive this terror. Many could not make the journey as they involuntarily fled from their homes. No one really wants to leave the place they consider home and everyone who is a refugee knows that that is a fact even if they are resettled to heaven. Home will always be home and nothing earthly can replace it. The meaning attached to home are not easily transferred to places refugees eventually seek refuge. It takes time to call a new place home.

Source: Rescue

It is not the time for us to turn away from those who fled violence and terror in their home country. The moment we stop helping others is the moment we deny our humanity and undermine our values, principles and all that we are and so dearly believe in. Today, they are refugees and seeking our help – tomorrow we could be in need of something else and we might seek help from others.

The United States is a great nation not because we have powerful weapons and large guns. We are great as a people because of the values, principles and beliefs that we stand and live for. I do believe that we can do this. We can shelter, provide medicine, food, clothes and peace of mind for Syrian refugees that need our help.

The United States refugee resettlement program is one of the rigorous resettlement programs in the world as far as I know and experienced. I had conducted over 10 different presentations across this country creating awareness of refugees’ issues and also about how the US Refugee Resettlement process works. If you are interested, please click below.

The US Refugee Resettlement Program

Refugees are not just taken out of a refugee camp and displaced setting and resettled to a third country. The process of resettlement takes between 1-2 years and even longer depending on several factors. The processes listed as “durable solution” to end “refugee-ness” are a). local integration (in the primary host country), b). repatriation (going back home) and resettlement (relocated to a third country.

Resettlement is the last resort of all three durable solutions and the most preferred of all the three options. Thus, before discussing how the US Resettlement Program works for the benefits of Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and his colleagues from other states across the political divide and for those at the senate who plans or are planning to pass a legislature to restrict or block the resettlement of Syrian refugees to the United States.

IT SHOULD BE KNOWN THAT STATES DO NOT HAVE ANY LEGAL OR LEGISLATIVE SIGNIFICANCE TO DETERMINE WHETHER OR NOT REFUGEES CAN BE ADMITTED TO THE UNITED STATES AND FOR THAT MATTER IN THEIR RESPECTIVE STATES. The admissions of refugees in the United States is the sole responsibility of the Federal Government of the United States.

a. Local Integration

When refugees flee from their home country and enter another country in most cases bordering their home country. They are in most instances welcomed and registered by the appropriate refugee agency of the country.

Usually, this prior registration process is jointly implemented by the government of the host country and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Thus, the point here is that, if well coordinated, each refugee is registered and provided with some sort of identification. At that point, they officially gain refugee status. The process of local integration in the primary host country is a long process and also depends on the state hosting the refugee population and the refugee themselves.

For the state, aspects that are considered include, but are not limited to the population, economy, national security, the refugee population itself, etc. For effective refugee management, the moment refugees are admitted, the process to find a durable solution should start immediately because you want people to settle and live freely.

However, local integration in the host country should be encouraged since refugees can easily transition back home once the situation, which caused them to flee cease to exist in their country of origin.

Also, one reason while local integration should be encouraged is that in most instances the primary host country shares similar cultural and ethnic diversity of the seeking refuge. This is not to say that the relationship is perfect, but people relationships cross national borders.

However, one reason why most refugees don’t seem to choose local integration as a durable solution is that they are easily targeted due to cross borders attacks. I am not very sure if they might be the case in Libya and Syria, but in West Africa for example, rebels from Liberia were accused of staging attacks on refugee camps in Guinea and Sierra Leone. Similar incidents were reported in the Great Lakes Region in Eastern Africa. If well planned, local integration in the primary country of refuge can be an effective solution to cease refugee status.

b). Repatriation

Unlike local integration, repatriation is done when a refugee decides to return to his or her home country when the condition of fear, which causes the refugee situation ceases to exist back home. Again, like local integration, voluntary repatriation is done at the free will of the refugee.

However, if the conditions back in their home country for which they fled cease to exist and refugee population still refuse to return home voluntarily and local integration is rejected by the refugee population and the resettlement isn’t possible, their refugee status can be terminated because cessation clause in the host country’s refugee policy specifies that “once the condition of fear for which the refugee fled his or her country cease to exist” their refugee status can be terminated by the government of the host country.

The good thing about voluntary repatriation is that, if well planned, returnees (i.e. former refugees) can be relocated back to their communities and start the rehabilitation, reintegration and reconstruction process back in their country. In most cases in the event of a voluntary repatriation, refugees returning home are provided with some assistance (financial or logistical) to help facilitate transition when they return.

c). Resettlement

Within the refugee cycle, resettlement is the optimal choice, but the most difficult stage of the durable solution to the refugee crisis. Usually, the initial determination to resettle a refugee family is a product of several processes. First, in the traditional sense; that is, resettlement that is initiated from the UNHCR is conducted after several interviews (aka counseling sections with a refugee/a refugee family) and a UNHCR Case Worker.

When it is determined by the UNHCR staff that a refugee or a refugee family life is at stake in the host country and the prospect of returning home is unlikely, that individual and his family are recommended to the consulate of a refugee resettlement country. Once that process gets started, the consulate in question takes over the process and all files relating to that individual and his/her family members are turned over to the consulate office responsible for resettlement processing. This process according to the US Refugee Resettlement Program is known as Priority I.

Secondly, for humanitarian reasons, refugees can be resettled to a third country. That is, special humanitarian concerns could warrant the US to issue the admission of refugees in the United States. The current humanitarian crisis of Syrian refugees falls into this bracket of the US Refugee Resettlement program known as Priority II.

Thirdly, another way a refugee is resettled to a third country ( the third country in this narrative means resettlement country and usually means a developed country that can provide the needs of the refugee family that is considered for resettlement) at least for the case of the US Refugee Resettlement Program is through Family Reunification, which is Priority III.

In this refugee resettlement program, refugees are admitted to the United States through a family member (parents), spouse and unmarried child under 21 years of age, who was a refugee themselves and are either a permanent resident or citizen of the United States. Even given that, the person being applied for by his relative in the US has to demonstrate refugee status in the country where the application is sent to the US Consulate for processing.

Thus, now that we know that refugees are not just resettled once they leave their country, even though the case of Syrian refugees could challenge this convention because we have thousands of people landing on the shores of Europe. It is paramount for countries that are interested in resettling Syrian refugees to coordinate their efforts and also work with those countries like Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, etc to see how those already undergoing some sort of biometric processing could be resettled.

Also, the massive influx of refugees in Europe is also creating a humanitarian crisis and in this case, the UNHCR and other agencies need to work with the governments of resettlement countries to start processing refugees for resettlement, but first addressing their immediate needs.

Now, with a clear picture of what resettlement is like and the various types of resettlement listed in the US Resettlement Program, I will now focus on more specifically how the resettlement process, irrespective of which type works.

Source: US Department of State

Step # 1. Overseas Processing Entity (OPE)/UNHCR

US Refugees resettlement is a tough process. The resettlement process starts with an initial interview of the refugee applicant by a UNHCR staff or a staff member of an Overseas Processing Entity (OPE), a contracting firm of either the UN Refugee agency or the Department of State or the country initiating the resettlement process.

The goal of the interview with OPE or UNHCR staff is to work with the refugee seeking to be resettled to make sure that their records are right and to also determine if their case merits resettlement. This is usually called pre-screening. Some refugees get denial letters from this process if they failed to justify why they need to be resettled or denial could be if their names are a red flag or had prior criminal records that could serve as a ground to deny resettlement.

All along the resettlement process, prospective refugees to be resettled get letters of approval after each stage of the resettlement process. However, the three most important stages are during the pre-screening, interview with the US Immigration staff and after the results of medical examination. Nowadays, refugees don’t get denied because of their prior medical conditions. This used to be the case in the past in the early 1980s, 1990s and early part of 2000, but things change after 2003.

That is, refugee application for resettlement has to justify why resettlement is the optimal choice over local integration and repatriation. Simply put why can’t you integrate into your current host country and why can’t you return home? If the responses to these two questions along with other questions that may be asked by the interviewer are not satisfactory or there is misleading information in the storyline, they can be denied resettlement and their case will remain at that level…done!!

However, if they have a solid reason why resettlement is the optimal choice over other options, then a staff of the OPE will schedule a second interview. This time to prepare and finalize paperwork after which it will be forwarded to the US Consulate and a State Department or Department of Homeland Security staff will schedule an immigration interview, which are thorough and comprehensive and scary, at least to the refugee applicants.

Step # 2. Interview with USCIS Staff

Typically, the wait time between the last interview at OPE to the interview held by member of United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) staff from the US Consulate usually takes between 3-4 months interval. This off-course depends on the case load available.

This time doesn’t account for relatively 6-7 months wait period going through the OPE Pre-screening processes. Prior to meeting with the USCIS/State Department staff, name checks are conducted to make sure that the individual is not flag in any way and has no prior arrest warrant or anything that could cause national security concerns once admitted in the United States. Once that is done, the staff of the US Consulate conducts a face-to-face interview only with the individual and or his family and member and a decision of their refugee resettlement application are verbally announced at the end of the interview followed by a letter.

Once it is determined that they have legitimate reasons of fear for which resettling in the United States surpass local integration in the primary country of refuge and repatriation is not possible, their case is approved at the scene or few days letter and an admissions letter issued by the US Consulate. If their stories are inconsistent or information became available is security concerns, the staff more reason to have their resettlement application in the US denied.

The result of such process is made known in a letter signed by the US Department of State official who conducted the interview for which you were under oath. Not every refugee is interview by the FBI and or CIA. The determination as to whether or not an individual refugee applicant seeking resettlement in the United States will be interview by one or either agency is based on the national origin and the high-risk country outlined by the US Department of State and the US Department of Homeland Security (USDHS).

Step # 3. Medical Examination and Screening

This stage is where all the medical conditions for resettlement in the US are met. It is a comprehensive medical examination, which involves physical, blood works, malaria treatment (if the refugee is originating from a malaria-induced eco-region), etc. About 15-30 years ago, refugees applicants used to be denied due to HIV + status, but now with the advancement in medicine against the fight with HIV, the conditions for denial based on HIV + status is no longer effective and outdated and those refugees who are HIV positive are provided treatment starting in the country of host until to arrive in the US.

Step # 4. Cultural Orientation

Cultural orientation is usually conducted by OPE or the appropriate agency contracted to educate newly “to be resettled” refugees to the United States. The cultural orientation class usually last for 14 days at the hourly duration of 7 hours daily. Trained educators go through every aspect of the American ways of life from accessing public transportation, to banking, how to dial 911, etc. A certificate of completion is awarded to each participant. Participation and completion of all classes/sections are mandatory to the resettlement process or you forfeit eligibility.

Step # 5. Travel Arrangements

This is one of the joyous stages as a refugee when you know that you are about to travel, but not just yet. At this stage, the airline ticket(s) are booked and you signed a promissory note to repay the money used to purchase the ticket on your behalf. Usually, repayments of airline tickets are done through the resettlement agency in the US. However, each refugee can elect to send their checks or payment directly to the collection agency, which will most likely be the resettlement agency. Each refugee and or a refugee family is given about 12 months after arrival to start repayment. At least grace period is better than that of the student loan repayment. Lol!

Step # 6. The Resettlement Agency (US Based)

This stage is done without the prior consent of the refugee applicant. Resettlement agencies such as Catholic Charity, Church World Service, and Lutheran Immigrants and Refugees Service or Ascentria Care just to name a few are assigned refugees cases to facilitate the process of integration into American ways of life.

The resettlement agency prior to the arrival date of the refugee receives all the document on each family member per refugee family and start putting things together. Once the refugee and his family arrive, the agency helps with attaining SSN, State ID, process application for the Department of Homeland Security Work Authorization Card for the next three months, health care or health insurance, public library cards for those interested, schools and colleges, etc. Basically, it is expected that within 9-12 months, each resettled refugee family will be able to navigate the system and gradually start to face out of the resettlement agency. However, that just talks as most refugees take more time to get adjusted to the system and be able to stand alone.

Step # 7. Departure to the United States

Once all of steps 1 to 6 are satisfied, it is that time that we can say good bye to friends in the refugee camp or displace center. It is usually a time of joy and sadness. Joy because as you look behind you once saw mayhem, but in front, you finally see peace, peace of mind, love, happiness, and safety. Sadness because many of your friends and even family members are left behind at the refugee camp.

All departures transportation services are coordinated by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), UNHCR, TSA, and USDHS. Usually, refugees admitted to the United States are transported on regular transport planes accompanied by a convoy from IOM and in some cases UNHCR.

Each refugee is given a white plastic bag, which contains all their relevant documents sealed for US Immigration Official to open and evaluate for screening and verification purposes at the port of entry (i.e. where they first land in the US). At the immigration desk, each arriving refugee are further screened by the immigration official, biometrics are taken including photos and the sealed brown envelope taken and the admissions letter stamped and an I-94 issued. The I-94 is a legal entry document, which can be used until a green card/permanent resident card is mailed and returned once the refugee becomes a US Citizen.

Step # 8. In the US

At the port of entry, resettled refugees are met by a case manager or staff from the refugee resettlement agency and a family member, if they have one. From there, the resettlement agency takes charge and helps the newly resettled refugee integrate into the American society, which can be a long process depending on the individual, the resources that are available and their willingness to work things out as quickly as possible. The rest now becomes the normal routine.

In these processes, we collect a significant amount of data can I share some light on whether or not someone is an extremist. The US has one of the rigorous resettlement screening processes in the world. If we allow ourselves to be carried away by fear because of IS and other Islamic extremist entities, we only undermine our strengthen, the values and principles we stand for.

The Syrians people do need our fullest support and this is not the time to turn away from our neighbors when they need our hand.

So, Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, while the decision to resettle Syrian refugees in the United States is out of your power. The federal government has put in place a system with years of credible work that can yet be used to provide Syrian refugees with the assistance they need to resettle in the US and also ensure the American people that their safety is at the alter-most center of the process. I have written this post because I was a product of the US Refugee Resettlement Process and I am not a Terrorist.

1 reply »

  1. Very informative and personal. I agree and we should not discriminate against so many people who need help and have been suffering for so long in a war zone and with such proximity to IS. And that doesn’t seem to be where some of the roots of this terrorism really lies.

    Like

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