Syrian refugees being forced from home go through intensive resettlement process

Story and photo by KATIE UNDESSER

Refugees are being forced out of their homeland at an alarming rate since the Syrian war broke out in March 2011. The process to resettle them in a third country can take years to complete.

According to the Catholic Community Services of Utah (CCS), a refugee is someone who has been forced to flee their country because of past persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, or because they are a member in a particular social group or hold a political opinion that may diverge from their government’s position.

Humanitarian aid organizations, such as the CCS, have dedicated time toward the help of those refugees in need who decide to apply for third-country resettlement.

Aden Batar, the director of immigration and refugee resettlement at CCS, has committed his life to resettling refugee families who come to Utah by helping them from the moment they arrive to the moment they become self-sufficient.

Batar himself is a refugee from Somalia. He knows firsthand how hard it can be on those who are forced out of their home country. The journey alone tears family members apart.

“When you’re in your country, you either face the hard condition of leaving, or you die. Looking back, I don’t know how I did, but when you don’t have a choice, you just want a new place to survive,” he said.

Most choose life when having to make the decision between living and dying. The journey to a new land takes courage and knowledge. There are two ways to reach safety: by boat or foot.

“If they are going to die staying, a lot are willing to take the risk of surviving a boat ride across the ocean,” Batar said.

When Syrian refugees cross the Mediterranean Sea from Turkey to Greece, there are several obstacles that may arise: starvation, dehydration and suffocation. According to The Independent, the Mediterranean Sea has become the deadliest sea crossing in the world since the start of the refugee crisis.

Even walking on foot from one place to another is not as simple as it sounds, Batar said.

Utah Refugee Education and Training Center, located at 250 W. 3900 South in Salt Lake City, provides opportunities for refugees to access higher education and training programs.

Gerald Brown, state refugee coordinator and assistant director of the Refugee Services Office, spoke about the abrupt travel of a friend who came from Burma.

“It was the middle of the night when he woke up realizing that his house was on fire. He gathered his family and they ran into the nearby jungle. After three days of running, they reached the border,” Brown said.

Many times, the surrounding tribes around a homeland may be the reason a refugee is leaving. Sometimes, a traveling refugee would need to be able to know what language the following tribe spoke in order to save their lives.

Along the expedition, various refugee camps have been set up in order to help the traveling families. Within these camps, refugees have few rights, have no control over their lives and have no future for themselves or their children.

The other pathways for refugees after fleeing their country could be living in cities after registering with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and receiving food vouchers from an organization or hiding out in cities or jungles as they are subject to arrest and deportation, Brown said.

There are approximately 65.6 million forcibly displaced people worldwide. Of that number, only 189,300 refugees resettle in a third country. That is roughly only 1 percent of the total number, according to the UNHCR.

Throughout the security screening, refugees are required to pass all levels of the steps. In the meantime, refugees are required to remain where they are, whether that is a refugee camp or city.

The six-step screening process as defined by the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. Graphic provided by Gerald Brown.

The first step in the security screening, Brown said, is the refugee making the decision to apply for refugee status. From there the UNHCR interviews the refugees and then refers the ones who meet the criteria to one of the nine national resettlement agencies.

During this task, there are bars that are set for the refugees coming into the country, Brown. These bars are certain standards that need to be met in order for the refugees to be even considered to resettle in a third country such as the United States.

“If they persecuted someone themselves then they did not pass the bar and cannot become a refugee in our country,” Brown said.

If there is any reason to believe that a person has done something illegal or unjust in their country, then they will automatically get declined resettlement and will not be able to reapply.

Steps 7-11 of the security screening process as defined by the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. Graphic provided by Gerald Brown.

The next step is the security screening. The screening process is aimed at ensuring the refugees will not pose a security risk to the United States. These background checks can take anywhere from 18 to 24 months after referral, according to the U.S Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. During this entire process, the refugees are continuing to stay in the camps.

The final steps include a health screening and eligibility based on the current cap the U.S. has established for incoming refugees. Then, the Department of State works with the nine national resettlement organizations that have affiliate offices that resettle refugees.