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Refugee Resettlement Primer

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Recently, local journalist Josh Brokaw interviewed William Canny, director of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Program regarding refugee resettlement.   This article followed a press announcement Catholic Charities released on Valentine’s Day letting the community know the first family we had accepted to bring to the U.S. through our refugee resettlement program was due to arrive in Ithaca soon.

The following excerpt from Josh’s article  includes William Canny’s thoughts on how  disastrous President Trump’s Executive Order has been refugee resettlement as a whole and the extra burden it has placed on the refugees themselves.  The entire article, “Refugee Resettlement Primer: From Over There to the United States” can be read here on Josh’s website, Truthsayers.

“The agencies who are out there doing resettling are reimbursed per refugee arrival,” Canny said. “When you stop the flow of refugees into those agencies you also stop reimbursements upon which those agencies made their annual budgets and planned to pay staff.”

With the implementation of Trump’s executive order uncertain, Canny’s agency and others are unsure how the flow of refugees will continue in the near future.

“The State Department does this in chunks,” Canny said. “You’ll remember there were 872 people who did come forward after the executive order: they had sold their belongings and left their house. They’re lining up some hundreds of people to come this week, ever since the injunction was brought in on the order. We hope, but can’t verify for those people in a similar situation that once they left their house, sold their goods, left the refugee camp and are making their way to their airport to get on a flight that, whenever the injunction is lifted, for humane purposes those people would come forward.”

First Refugee Family Slated to Arrive

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Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga is pleased to announce that the first family to be welcomed to Tompkins County through the agency’s new refugee resettlement program is scheduled to arrive later this month.

Renee Spear, executive director of the agency, explained, “After months of preparation, Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga (CCTT) was approved by the U.S. State Department last October as a Refugee Reception and Placement Site.  We have recently gotten word through that we will soon be receiving a family from Afghanistan as the first people to be welcomed through our new program.”

The Ithaca-based Catholic Charities agency is launching the new refugee resettlement program under the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services program, the largest refugee resettlement program in the U.S.

Sue Chaffee, Director of CCTT’s Immigrant Services Program said, “This family is entering the U.S. under the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program for people who were employed by or on behalf of the United States government in Afghanistan or Iraq.  The rigorous process of obtaining SIV status is administered by the U.S. State Department, which issues these visas in very limited numbers.  This is a different immigration status than people who have been vetted and designated as refugees by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees.  However, once these SIV holders enter the U.S., they are welcomed and oriented to life in this country through refugee resettlement agencies like ours.”

Ms. Chaffee continued, “In order to respect the privacy of this family, and in recognition of the upheaval and trauma they have experienced, we are not going to make their name, address or further details about them available to the public.  However we have been working closely with the Ithaca School District, local physicians’ offices, the local grassroots community organization Ithaca Welcomes Refugees and others to help ensure this family will have a warm welcome and a smooth transition to our community.”

A presidential executive order signed in late January suspended refugee resettlement in the U.S.  Last week, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld a ruling from a lower federal judge that blocked parts of the executive order, which allowed refugees who had advanced booking notices into the country again.  Because of the uncertainty of how further court cases will be decided or new executive orders will be worded, Catholic Charities staff is unable to predict the timing of any future resettlement of refugees.  Ms. Spear explained, “We are honored and grateful for the outpouring of support for our agency and for the refugees we hope to serve.  However, we cannot at this time give any further information on how and when our program will unfold.  We stand committed to this program and will continue to serve immigrants and refugees already living in Tompkins County through our Immigrant Services Program.”

Refugee Health Part I: Significance and Challenges

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The seemingly endless presidential campaign has finally reached its end. As one of the most contested election in U.S. history, this election gave rise to numerous issues that have emerged as national priorities. One of them is the refugee crisis, exacerbated by the turmoil in the Middle East and fueled by the recent terrorist attacks both domestic and abroad and the country’s long held fear of outsiders. Unfortunately, the one issue that has not been gained enough attention is refugee health. While many Americans have spent many hours arguing who and how to let people in or not in to this country, the health and well-being of those who finally made their ways here is a topic yet to be discussed. In moral sense, the health of those escaping humanitarian crisis in their home countries and who we deemed safe enough to let in is the moral obligation of ours as the health of any other fellow Americans. Refugee health is also an economic and public health issue as many tend to have preexisting health conditions and poorly managed health records that can jeopardize American public health and burden the government medical programs. According to the U.S. Department of State, New York State has taken in more than 1,200 refugees since last year, the third most in the nation. They are from countries like Iraq, Somalia, Ukraine, Burma, and Syria. They are the at-risk population in our backyards in our community whom we need to readily embrace and protect from falling into poverty and serious health conditions, both physical and mental.

The challenges frequently experienced by refugees can be illustrated by the “triple trauma paradigm,” according to Harvard Public Health Review. In this model, the primary trauma leads to the initial flight from the home country, the second trauma occurs during the flight or time in refugee camp, and then the third trauma occurs during resettlement. The primary and secondary traumas stem from the physical conditions of their home countries and refugee camps which often include poverty, war, torture, loss of loved ones, and starvation. In fact, according to Center for Victims of Torture, the prevalence of torture in the refugee population in the U.S. is estimated to be 44%. The abject physical conditions and the instability of life at home bring both physical and mental distress to refugees that often manifest itself later as depression, PTSD, and unmanaged chronic diseases. Yet, when refugees finally make their ways to their new country, they often do not get a chance to address their previous sufferings. Rather, resettlement brings its own stressors. Refugee families must find housing, navigate new social institutions, start a new job, locate new schools, all simultaneously while learning a new language and culture. Their physicians may want them to take medications on time, see a surgeon, get an MRI, and be evaluated by a therapist, but their priorities fall into ensuring first that basic needs are met for their families. These different priorities between medical professionals and refugees delay their chance of recovery from previous traumas and often worsen their preexisting conditions. These competing demands of different social institutions easily overwhelm refugees and result in lack of adherence and waste of valuable resources in the health care system.

There is a cycle of lack of access and poor health outcomes among refugee population. Recent studies have shown that low health literacy among refugees reduces utilization of necessary medical care, and the resulting, untreated health problems create more barriers to learning English. In fact, to many refugees, the concept of preventive medicine and primary health care are entirely foreign and may appear as an unaffordable luxury given the anxiety about their current lives. This limited patient understanding of the medical system and inadequate provider knowledge about refugee life further isolate them and prevent them from accessing adequate medical care. The anti-immigrant sentiments in the U.S. further burdens refugee life with discrimination as well. As a consequence, many refugees are at great risk of developing depression and anxiety and exacerbating any preexisting chronic illnesses and further isolation from the society. The medical system can do its part to stop this continuous cycle of isolation and poor health. By taking an integrative, preventive approach to the health of refugee population, their resettlement process can become truly settling with the moral and economic standards of our country.

Sean Kim

ISP Intern, ’17 Cornell

Thanks, Mayor

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    CCTT staff garnering support from Ithaca’s Mayor

Earlier this week, CCTT received final approval for an application we submitted to the Department of State last May to become a site that offers refugee resettlement services.  In order to begin the application process we were tasked with identifying and engaging community members, such as Mayor Svante Myrick, to gauge and garner support for refugee resettlement.  Since there was a lot of backlash about increasing numbers of refugees being resettled in the U.S., the Department of State wanted to ensure there was community buy-in from for any proposals being submitted and it was clear this would be a crucial part of the approval process.

Thankfully, we met this threshold.  As CCTT staff set about meeting with several stakeholders in the community in order to bolster our application, we were pleased how receptive government officials, local leaders, the faith community, department heads, our local funders, and community members were about our plans to bring refugee resettlement services to Ithaca.  The Mayor had already set the tone that Ithaca would provide a safe environment for refugees to relocate to and he echoed this when we personally met with him.   Not only did we get his full support back then but see from this Facebook post we still have it.  We want to acknowledge the Mayor and thank him for his willingness to back Catholic Charities’ efforts in supporting refugee who are fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries and welcome them into our community. Thanks, Mayor!