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On January 27, President Donald Trump banned residents of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for at least 90 days.
Executive Order 13769, “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States,” bars anyone hailing from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entering the country for the next three months.
The order additionally stops the admission of all refugees into the United States for four months. It also bans entry of those fleeing from Syria indefinitely.
For at least one group of local residents, President Trump’s executive order puts on hold their hopes to help future Syrian refugees.
The Interfaith Partnership for Refugee Resettlement (IPRR) was formed in late spring/early summer 2016. Members of many Newtown houses of worship — along with other local residents with no religious affiliation, but a shared desire to help others who found themselves in the international humanitarian crisis — created the partnership.
IPRR is working with Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS), a refugee resettlement organization based in New Haven. IRIS is the Connecticut affiliate of Episcopal Migration Ministries and the Immigration and Refugee Program of Church World Service.
In partnership with the US government and many nongovernmental donor agencies, IRIS has settled approximately 5,000 refugees in Connecticut since its founding in 1982.
After scouting housing options, collecting furniture and clothing, looking into transportation and education needs, and even setting up potential tutors, IPRR was able to tell IRIS that it was ready to host a family by this past autumn. In November a family of six arrived from Tanzania, under the care of the Newtown group.
Rick Chamiec-Case, chairman of IPRR, said this week the family is in “a beautiful apartment” in Danbury.
“The father, amazingly, has a full-time job, also in Danbury,” Mr Chamic-Case said February 1. “The children are in public schools in Danbury, and the schools have been wonderful, so welcoming and very helpful with integrating them into the system.”
Prior to their relocation to the United States, the children only knew life within a refugee camp.
The parents, Mr Chamiec-Case said, had been in a camp for 16 years.
“They met in the camp,” he said. “The kids have not lived outside of a camp, ever. They were all born in that camp.”
IPRR committee members are in touch with the family every day. Most are in touch directly, transporting the father to and from work, taking the mother to local community centers, or tutoring the family. The family speaks Swahili, which few volunteers have been able to translate easily.
According to IRIS’s timeline for any group that resettles refugees, IPRR has until May 17 to get their family fully settled.
“The clear day-to-day work is to give them the support they need,” Mr Chamiec-Case said, “and to get them to a place where they will not be fully dependent on us for transportation, and communication.
“We will remain as friends,” he continued, “but not as supporters.”
IPRR had hoped to begin the process of setting up for another refugee family in the spring.
“We have desires to help others,” Mr Chamiec-Case said. The refugee camp in Tanzania the family in Danbury recently left reportedly still has 70,000 people in it.
“We had hoped to help others from that camp,” he said. “This order certainly jeopardizes that hope to help others in the future.”
Mr Chamiec-Case said he and others involved with IPRR are in regular contact with IRIS officials in New Haven.
“We did hear from them a few days after the order, basically trying to clarify facts on how it does and does not affect families,” Mr Chamiec-Case said. IRIS provided confirmation to IPRR that their family is not affected by the executive order, Mr Chamiec-Case said.
“But they are concerned with others,” he said. “The talks, and vetting, and movement, have all been disrupted.”
In a statement released on January 27, shortly after President Trump signed his executive order, IRIS denounced it, calling the policies put into place “discriminatory, xenophobic” and the actions “un-American.”
The statement said the executive order “is in direct opposition to the core American value of welcoming persecuted people to the United States to start their lives again in safety and peace.”
“This announcement is gut-wrenching for our refugee community members who are waiting to be reunited with a sister, brother, parent or child, and for refugees overseas with no other options for safety than to be resettled in the US,” the statement continued. “We cannot discriminate against refugees for how they pray or where they are from. Many refugees from Muslim countries are themselves victims of persecution and atrocities, and they need our protection. The executive order purports to protect the nation from terrorist acts by foreign nationals. In fact, refugees are the most thoroughly vetted people in the United States, undergoing extremely rigorous security screenings, including biographic and biometric checks, forensic document testing, and in-person interviews.”
One of the reasons the Newtown-based IPRR felt comfortable beginning its project of resettling refugees is the vetting process IRIS puts every refugee through.
“These people who are coming have been vetted, up to two years,” Gordon Williams, vice chair of IPRR, told The Newtown Bee in August 2016. In fact, the process often takes closer to three years, according to information from IRIS. Homeland Security and the United Nations are among the groups that handle part of the vetting process.
The policies put into place on January 27, according to IRIS’s statement, “dishonor our nation’s history, beliefs and values. We call on members of this new administration and the 115th Congress to do everything in their power to reverse these announcements.
“At IRIS, we remain steadfastly committed to the principles of inclusion, diversity, and humanitarianism that are essential elements of our national character.”
In Newtown, IPRR will also remain devoted to helping refugees, asylum seekers, and others displaced by war, oppression, or other reasons to fear for their lives.
“If progress is made with this executive order,” Mr Chamiec-Case said, “we would very much like to continue to address the need that is continuing all around the globe.”
The Interfaith Partnership for Refugee Resettlement is not actively seeking a broad spectrum of volunteers at this time, although Mr Chamiec-Case said there is a need for anyone who speaks Swahili. “That remains a challenge,” he said Wednesday morning. Anyone able to help with that challenge is invited to contact Mr Chamiec-Case at 203-270-8780. Details and an option to contact the resettlement group are available through IPRR’s website, iprefugeer.org.