By: Ana Tarlas
Under the Trump administration, refugee resettlement agencies around the country are preparing to work under new circumstances ordered by the President.
President Trump placed a halt in an administrative order on all incoming refugees for four months, and significantly lowered the number of allotted refugees to be resettled in the U.S. Church World Services (CWS) is a resettlement agency with locations across the U.S. In Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the agency is adapting to the new requirements and conditions ordered by the president.
“The most immediate change we will notice for the next 4 months is we won’t be resettling anyone at all,” said Hurubie Meko, CWS staffer.
Each year, the president releases a number for perspective refugees that the United States will commit to resettling. At the start of the fiscal year, the Obama administration committed to settle 110,000 refugees in the U.S. The ceiling for refugee resettlement was reduced by more than half as the Trump administration committing to resettle 50,000 refugees, the lowest in 35 years.
“We have already resettled around 30,000, which means that when the pause is lifted, it puts us in July,” Meko said. “The fiscal year ends at the end of September. Which means everyone that is left in that 20,000 number we will have to resettle.”
Meko said that resettling 20,000 refugees from July to September is a challenge because of the long process for agencies and other organizations that refugees are vetted through.
The first step for refugees is to go through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Then, the UNHCR refers selected refugees to resettlement agencies around the country, who then start their own process. Meko said a key point in refugee resettlement, a typically overlooked fact, is that refugees do not get to pick their place of resettlement, and there are less than 30 resettlement countries in the world.
“The UNHCR will refer cases to different countries, based on where they think they can do the best and a plethora of different reasons,” Meko said.
Once the refugees are referred to the resettlement agency, the vetting process begins on their end, which takes years, even if everything runs as smoothly as possible.
“1000 days we approximate. That really means that everything works out perfectly and your papers don’t expire,” Meko said.
But because of President Trump’s four-month halt, Meko said, refugees now will wait much longer because all their paperwork will expire during that four-month hiatus.
“Refugee resettlement in the U.S. is not what is happening in Europe with migrants and refugees just kind of showing up at the borders and just getting into a safe country, and getting asylum or requesting asylum,” Meko said. “It’s a heavily vetted process.”
As for the resettlement agencies, Meko believes that layoffs are coming for the workers considering the lack of resettlement. Which could make settling the remaining 20,000 refugees even more difficult of a task.
Meko said refugees living in refugee camps wait, on average, 17 years for resettlement. Some Somali cases brought to CWS in Lancaster have waited 20 years, with young adults born and raised in the camp. Now, these refugees who have had to wait a lifetime for their resettlement to begin, must wait even longer considering the interruption and expired paperwork.
Those selected for resettlement out of the more than 65 million refugees are considered the most vulnerable. Most are women and children, that are expected to do very poorly in the country they are currently living in.
“Out of the 65 million refugees, 70 percent of whom are women and children, there are incredible powerful women and each of these refugees has a story,” said Barbara Wien, Professor at American University.
Wednesday, a group of four panelists discussed women refugees on International Women’s Day at American University.
The four panelists discussed various issues abroad that women refugees face. The discussion showcased ways that women’s rights in refugee camps and in countries suffering from a refugee crisis are easily, and viciously, violated. Specifically, in various places in Iraq, women refugees are kidnapped, held hostage, and victim to brutal sexual violence.
Panelists said there are an estimated 2,000 women in ISIS captivity that were taken in Mosul, now an ISIS controlled city. Child refugees are being forced into military and terrorist activity, and little efforts to rescue them have taken place, outside of smuggling attempts from inside the community.
The panelists discussed micro-level barriers that women and girl refugees face, and services provided to help refugees adjust to life after resettlement. Each panelist had their own experience working with refugees and through organizations that help resettle, provide transitional services and provide safe spaces for refugees and refugee women.
“Women from the Congo have amazing resilience and coping skills,” Wien said of her work with refugee women.
Wien expressed her dismay for the current media coverage of refugees, and lack of effort by smaller communities to welcome them into the country. Despite the shift in approach to resettling refugees to the United States, Meko said that resettlement communities remain supportive and essential for the prospering of resettlement agencies.
“We had a vigil in Lancaster, and the vigil was about refugee and immigrant issues,” Meko said. “Over 2,000 people showed up.”