Elec­tion throws US plans for Syr­ian refugees into ques­tion

Malta Independent - - SYRIA CRISIS -

Ara­bic lan­guage classes are draw­ing 25 to 30 peo­ple a week in prepa­ra­tion for the new ar­rivals in town. High school stu­dents are help­ing col­lect fur­ni­ture and house­wares for them, and em­ploy­ers have in­quired about giv­ing them jobs.

For the past sev­eral months, Rut­land has been get­ting ready to re­ceive 100 mostly Syr­ian refugees be­gin­ning early next year. But with Don­ald Trump tak­ing of­fice in late Jan­uary, Rut­land’s plans and those of other US cities that have agreed to take in peo­ple flee­ing the civil war have been thrown into ques­tion, given the in­com­ing pres­i­dent’s hos­til­ity to Mus­lim im­mi­grants.

“I am not even go­ing to haz­ard a guess,” about the fate of the pro­gram, said Mayor Christo­pher Louras, who in­vited the new­com­ers in the hope they can help re­vi­talise this shrink­ing, post-in­dus­trial, heroin-plagued city of 15,800.

In the fis­cal year that just ended, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion screened and ad­mit­ted nearly 12,600 Syr­ian refugees, who were re­set­tled in cities and towns across the US Thou­sands more are sched­uled to ar­rive in the com­ing year.

Dur­ing the cam­paign, Trump pro­posed a ban on Mus­lims en­ter­ing the coun­try and called for a mora­to­rium on ac­cept­ing Syr­ian refugees for fear of ter­ror­ists slip­ping through. He also vowed “ex­treme vet­ting” of would-be im­mi­grants from coun­tries plagued by ex­trem­ism.

Pres­i­dents set the quo­tas for refugees al­lowed into the coun­try. Once Trump takes of­fice 20 Jan­uary, he could cut off the flow or re­duce the num­ber the US will ac­cept. The pres­i­dent-elect’s tran­si­tion team had no com­ment this month on his plans.

Sta­cie Blake, spokes­woman for the US Com­mit­tee for Refugees and Im­mi­grants, said her or­gan­i­sa­tion hopes Rut­land will start see­ing the refugees ar­rive by mid-Jan­uary. Once ad­mit­ted to the US, refugees can­not be ex­pelled un­less they have com­mit­ted a se­ri­ous crime or are found to have lied to gain en­try.

Rut­land’s plan has been wel­comed by some and con­demned by others, who warn that the refugees could not only pose a se­cu­rity threat and but also take away hous­ing, jobs and so­cial ser­vices from lo­cals.

“It’s just sad, sad. We don’t need any more peo­ple here, from any­place, but es­pe­cially the Syr­i­ans, be­cause who knows, there could be one ter­ror­ist in there. Once they’re here, they’re hard to get rid of. They’re like a tick, or rats,” Ren­nie Masler said.

Among the many other US com­mu­ni­ties pre­par­ing to ac­cept Syr­i­ans and other refugees in 2017 is Bowl­ing Green, Ken­tucky, a long-time refugee re­set­tle­ment com­mu­nity that took in about 400 mostly African im­mi­grants this year. It ex­pects 40 Syr­i­ans in Septem­ber.

Al­bert Mbanfu, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the In­ter­na­tional Cen­ter of Ken­tucky, a refugee re­set­tle­ment agency in Bowl­ing Green, said he isn’t so sure Trump will fol­low through on his threats.

“Cam­paign rhetoric is com­pletely dif­fer­ent from gov­ern­ing, and there are so many things that we might say be­cause we are in the heat of a cam­paign, and when we get into the prac­ti­cal­ity of things, we do it dif­fer­ently,” Mbanfu said. He added: “I be­lieve we will be fine.”

Two Iraqi refugees who ar­rived in Bowl­ing Green in 2009 were charged two years later with at­tempt­ing to pro­vide money and weapons to ex­trem­ists in Iraq. Both are serv­ing pri­son sen­tences.

The Mi­gra­tion Pol­icy In­sti­tute, a non­par­ti­san think tank in Wash­ing­ton, said that of the 784,000 refugees cleared for re­set­tle­ment in the US since 9/11, only the two Iraqis in Bowl­ing Green and a third man from Uzbek­istan were later ar­rested and ac­cused of plan­ning acts of vi­o­lence.

In Rut­land, the mayor sees ac­cept­ing refugees not just as a hu­man­i­tar­ian ges­ture but as a way to boost the pop­u­la­tion and in­ject en­ergy into the city, which had a boom­ing mar­ble-quar­ry­ing in­dus­try that was built on im­mi­grant labour from Europe in the 19th and early 20th cen­turies.

The lo­cal hospi­tal, restau­rants, ski re­sorts, con­trac­tors and other em­ploy­ers have ex­pressed in­ter­est in hir­ing the refugees, Louras said.

Rut­land’s pop­u­la­tion has dropped by about 700 since the 2010 cen­sus, and the city has suf­fered from the surge in heroin use that is hit­ting small-town Amer­ica. Rut­land has been us­ing a mix­ture of law en­force­ment, treat­ment and neigh­bour­hood re­vi­tal­iza­tion to fight the drug scourge with some suc­cess. It has been help­ing to buy and seize drug houses and ei­ther de­mol­ish them or ren­o­vate them for new own­ers.

As prepa­ra­tion for the refugees con­tinue, Mor­gan Denehy, a Rut­land County na­tive who ma­jored in Ara­bic and spent two terms in col­lege liv­ing in north Africa, is giv­ing the weekly Ara­bic les­sons.

“Even if it’s how to say ‘hello,’ even if you learn one or two phrases to say some­thing to some­one,” he said, “it can make such a dif­fer­ence.”

Mor­gan Denehy speaks while seated in a cof­fee shop in Rut­land, Ver­mont. Af­ter months of bit­ter de­bate, the downon-its heels city is pre­par­ing to start ac­cept­ing up to 100 Syr­ian refugees. Denehy, a Rut­land County na­tive who ma­jored in Ara­bic in col­lege, is now giv­ing weekly Ara­bic les­sons in Rut­land. “Even if it’s how to say hello, even if you learn one or two phrases to say some­thing to some­one, it can make such a dif­fer­ence,” he said.

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