Reflecting On U.S. Response To Syrian Refugees

Nov 23, 2015

Clients leave the Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services offices in New Haven after meeting with executive director Chris George.
Credit By Cassandra Basler

Connecticut welcomed a Syrian refugee family that was turned away by the governor of Indiana last week. A nonprofit in New Haven that works with refugees from Syria, and all over the world, said their refugee clients face challenges ahead.

Chris George is the executive director of Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, or IRIS. He called his clients for a meeting one week after the attacks in Paris.

“I wanted to bring our refugee clients up to date about on what’s going on in the world, what’s going on in the United States, and what’s going on in Connecticut that directly affects refugees,” George said in his office in New Haven.

George also told clients how to report incidents of harassment. He said that’s one problem refugees could face when people are scared after events like the attacks in Paris. Security concerns have prompted some U.S. Governors to turn away refugees from Syria.

George said refugees in the U.S. go through years of security screening.

“It is the most rigorous background check in the world and it is the most rigorous background check for anyone coming into this country,” George said. “Refugees go through biometric testing, there are fingerprints, iris scans, their documents undergo forensic examination.”

The Syrian refugee family that came to New Haven last week went through that process. The family fled their home in Homs, Syria and spent five years in a refugee camp in Jordan. The family had to first apply for refugee status with the United Nations, then referred to apply with the United States.

George said once the family’s application was approved and vetted by three federal security agencies, including the FBI, a national refugee resettlement agency checked in with local groups in each state to see who had the resources ready to welcome them.

The family was originally set to fly in to Indiana on Tuesday, but the governor denied incoming Syrian refugees entry. George said Indiana’s governor did that by saying he’d deny the family social services, like food stamps, that refugees rely on when they first arrive.

But Connecticut’s governor had vowed to continue taking in refugees from Syria, and IRIS welcomed the family.

“We had about 24 hours notice,” George said. “The state department usually gives us two weeks notice. And this was a particularly busy week anyway. We welcomed five families. So we had five apartments to get ready, five apartments to furnish.”

IRIS found an apartment, and even found a local Iraqi volunteer to cook a hot Middle Eastern meal for the family when they arrived.

“The last thing we want for a family that has gone through so much suffering that has been waiting for four years in Jordan,” George said, “is for them is to come to this country and be met with a closed door. We want to open our arms and welcome them.”

IRIS will help the family for the next three to four months as the parents look for jobs, learn English and enroll their 5-year old boy in school.