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Refugees process lengthy and rigorous

Published: Aug. 20, 2021 at 7:44 PM CDT
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(WSAW) - Non-profit resettlement agencies around the state and country were in meetings Friday to learn more about when Afghan refugees could be coming to Wisconsin and which organizations will be asked to help with resettlement.

“This whole process is so fluid from hour to hour and day to day for the past week,” Mary Flynn, the program manager at Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin said. “I can tell you that this is very similar to refugee resettlement where you are told the broadest range of facts, and then you have to be very patient and wait to see what actually comes to fruition. And that’s what we’re dealing with right now.”

LSS is part of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which is one of the nine refugee resettlement agencies in the country. LSS has been approved to resettle 300 refugees in Wisconsin for the fiscal year which runs from October through September.

Typically, refugees trickle into the country after going through the approval process, but the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan is different.

“This is a humanitarian crisis of epic proportion,” Flynn urged, saying she expects that allocation to increase with the number of Afghan refugees needing resettlement.

The process, which takes on average two years to complete, begins when an individual or family flees for their lives to another country where they must ask for asylum or safety. From that second country, they have to register with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees where basic information and documentation is collected. Then, UNHCR determines if they are eligible for refugee status and which country they can go to. Flynn mentioned there are about 55 million registered refugees in the world and last year only about 30,000 were resettled in the U.S.

The Department of State’s Resettlement Support Center takes that information, does an in-depth interview with the applicant, and then enters the information into the department’s Worldwide Refugee Admission Processing System.

DSS then verifies that information and sends it on to national security agencies including the National Counterterrorism Center, the Department of Defense, FBI, Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, and intelligence agencies, to screen for security threats and past actions.

DSS then does more interviews to verify information found during those screenings. If new information is discovered, they verify and interview the applicant about that information. Then, the person provides biometric data, like fingerprints, which are put into federal databases.

Those who are approved then go through a cultural orientation about the U.S. and as well as medical checks. If the medical screening clears, then the resettlement organizations review the applications, figure out where to resettle each refugee, and only then are they taken to the U.S. where they receive yet another screening before entering the country.

That is the basic process, but for some Iraqi and Afghan refugees, they can use a different process called the Special Immigrant Visa program.

“They’re allowed to come directly from their home country and admitted to the United States and several other countries in the world because of the material support they have given the U.S. government or the U.S. military,” Flynn explained.

The eligibility is stringent, but they go through the same vetting process as other refugees.

“Many of them have very high-security clearances because of their involvement with the U-S military. So, the people who are admitted to the United States with legal, permanent, documented status have proven themselves to be of good moral character for the U.S. government and admitted to the United States.”

A new process to help fill another gap is the Priority 2 Designation, which helps Afghans who are close to filling the time requirements for SIV and family members of SIV refugees. Flynn noted there are still gaps to help people like women who assisted the U.S. democratic efforts, but who were not working directly with government agencies, like journalists.

According to the Ethiopian Community Development Council, which is one of the refugee resettlement organizations, there are about 18,000 applicants in the pipeline who are still in Afghanistan who were already far along in the application process.

ECDC said Afghan refugees who are pending final approval for resettlement are finishing up the process at Fort Lee in Virginia. Fort Bliss in Texas and Fort McCoy in Wisconsin are expected to take in additional refugees as they finish their approval process. Those who get final approval will receive services, and a resettlement agency will work to send them to their new home. ECDC and Flynn noted refugees who are initially taken in to complete the process at Fort McCoy, for example, will be sent all over the country, not necessarily be relocated in Wisconsin.

DSS told NewsChannel 7 they cannot say where they resettle families for privacy purposes, but said they prioritize “reunification with U.S.-based family and friends, and also considers needs and characteristics of each individual and family.”

Wisconsin resettled 234 refugees in the current fiscal year through part of July through the typical process. Flynn said they resettled one Afghan family last month. Nationally, more than 9,400 Afghan refugees were approved for SIV last fiscal year.

Flynn said there have been many generous people who want to offer their time to volunteer or offer physical items to donate, however, she said with the magnitude of the crisis, she asks for cash donations.

“When we do get people in unexpectedly large numbers, or maybe we get a case that has very small children, or people who are older, or people that have suffered injuries in the process and really need some extra time before they get a job, those cash donations will be used in the most responsible manner and they will have the most impact,” she explained.

She said it would allow them to hire additional staff as needed and address refugees’ needs more quickly. Other non-profit resettlement agencies echoed the call, also asking that those looking to help be patient as they have been inundated with calls, emails, and information.

To donate to LSS, you can text “LSS Refugee” to 4144 or click here. To find information about other resettlement agencies, click here.

NewsChannel 7 reached out to the Evers Administration with several more questions, but then directed the questions to DSS. DSS only provided the answer previously mentioned about how they resettle individuals and families.

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