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Refugee resettlement: What it looks like for one family in Ohio

Photo by April Laissle for WYSO

Joanne McPortland - published on 03/03/17

Catholic Charities helps already-stressed refugees deal with immigration policy uncertainties

What does refugee resettlement look like on the ground? In this time of heightened uncertainty for refugees and their families, as the Trump administration refines its executive order on immigration, public radio station WYSO took a look at one family’s experience in the heartland of Dayton, Ohio.

WYSO reporter April Laissle recently accompanied Catholic Social Services of the Miami Valley Refugee Resettlement Director Michael Murphy on a trip to meet new arrivals. Refugee resettlement in Ohio, as in many parts of the country, falls to Catholic Charities. Catholic Social Services of the Miami Valley serves the northern and eastern parts of the 19-county Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

On this particular journey – to meet two arriving members of a 7-member Eritrean refugee family already living in the Dayton suburb of Huber Heights – refugee resettlement looks like an equal mixture of joy and worry:

[W]e enter the apartment, where everyone is rushing around to put on their shoes. The house is crowded: 20-year-old Teve [Ed. note: Names were changed to protect the family’s privacy], his 55-year-old mother Tebe, and Teve’s four younger siblings. Tonight, they’ll pick up Teve’s sister, Akbaret, 27, and her seven-year-old daughter, Sipara. They haven’t seen each in a long time.Teve is ready to go almost immediately. He waits patiently by the door holding a bouquet of flowers for his sister. Today is a big day for him.“After five years, she’s coming today,” said Teve.Finally, it’s time to leave. We split into two cars and caravan to the airport.It’s a cold night, and everyone is bundled up, packed tightly into the backseat. As we drive, Murphy checks his phone for updates from Catholic Social Services’ travel coordinators in Washington D.C. He says the family made it on their flight and there are no delays so far, but he’s still a little worried.“We did get a memo from Washington D.C. that they may be detained on port of entry…”

The expected flight is delayed three hours, but that is the least of the delays this family – like so many refugee families – has had to endure.

The process started in 2006, when they fled Eritrea. The East African country near Ethiopia is governed by an authoritarian regime that’s been accused of human rights abuses in the past. The Genets went to a refugee camp in Ethiopia. There, they applied for legal status as refugees with the United Nations. The process involved lots of forms and lots of time. Then, the family went through a series of interviews with UN officials. Finally, they were approved to travel but had to wait until they could be placed. That took more time. In total, it took the Genets nine years before they finally boarded a flight to the U.S.But, Murphy says, for most refugees it takes even longer. He says there’s a lot of misconceptions about how the refugee-application process works.“People have this idea that people register as refugees and then come to the United States immediately. On average it takes 10-20 years.”Less than one half of one percent of refugees looking to resettle in the United States ever make it through the legal process. Most refugees end up resettling in neighboring countries instead. Some live their entire lives in refugee camps.

The Genets’ story has a happy ending, which you can read here. Please pray for them and all refugees, for the Catholic Charities workers and others who help resettle and reunite families, and for a wise balancing by our country’s leaders of the need for national security and the plight of the world’s most vulnerable.

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