In the News / August 2016

‘America is a Dream Country’ A Syrian Refugee’s Story of Life in Erie, Pennsylvania

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Full article in The Atlantic by Deborah Fallows

The field office of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) in Erie, Pennsylvania, was already beginning to bustle before 9 a.m. on the hot August morning when I visited.


As the morning wore on, people continued to drift in; the building was filling up. Upstairs in her office, Dylanna Jackson, who directs the program and has been working around the United States with refugees and immigrants for about two decades, described the reasons for the current whirlwind. She called it the “summer bulge.” Summer is traditionally a busy time for refugee resettlement, but in 2016 even more so, since the Obama administration raised its annual goal of Syrian refugee admissions almost sixfold to 10,000 people. “All the agencies are working as fast as they can,” said Jackson, as more people are moved more quickly into the pipeline. In Pennsylvania’s Region 5, where Erie sits, the arrivals numbered in the 30s and 40s from November through March, fell to 15 in April, and shot up to 79 in June and 91 in July. So far, the total since October 2015 for Region 5 is 520, and 2,645 for all of Pennsylvania.


When I asked Jackson if the USCRI had received calls or queries since Trump began speaking vociferously about refugees, she said there had only been the occasional call, mostly people who wondered what the organization did and who the arriving Syrians were. The staff fielded the questions and sometimes held information meetings if people requested them.

Both the refugees and those who help them describe the advantages of Erie as a good place to start new lives. It is a small town, easy to navigate. The schools and neighbors are welcoming. It is safe.


Mohammad says he will take any job he can get. He hopes to be happy in Erie and make his home there, “We are treated as human beings,” he said through his translator. “America is a dream country.”

Learn more about USCRI Erie here.

Feature image credit: Deborah Fallows/The Atlantic.

 

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