“Ibrahim Alkahraman escaped the war in Syria so his family could be safe together. Six years later, they’re still separated and seeking security.
Alkahraman, his wife and his five youngest children were resettled as refugees in Albany a year and a half ago, but his three oldest sons who were over age 18 are living in Jordan and waiting to come to the U.S. Now it will be even more difficult to reunite the family as the State Department cuts the maximum number of refugees entering the country next year by a third.
‘Because my kids are over there and I’m not next to them, I feel sad and bad,” Alkahraman, 49, said outside RISSE, a refugee support organization in Albany, where he works as a driver. “Any families, they need to be together.’
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Monday that the U.S. will cap refugee admissions at 30,000 for next year, down from 45,000 this year. Obama’s administration set the cap at 110,000 the year before.
The actual number admitted this year hasn’t even reached the cap though. As of July, the U.S. had received just more than 16,000 refugees, according to State Department data.
The number of refugees resettled in the Capital Region keeps plummeting. The Albany office of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) has received around 200 refugees this year, said director Jill Peckenpaugh. That’s half the average in years past. She said the agency could absorb as many as 600.
‘Albany has been a very welcoming place to refugees, as has New York state,’ Peckenpaugh said. ‘There are more refugees than ever needing safety and people whose basic human rights have been taken away. The U.S. is built on immigrants and could absorb many more.’
USCRI Albany has resettled more than 4,200 refugees since 2005 – 95 percent of all arrivals in the state, Peckenpaugh said. She said about half of the people arriving in Albany have family ties in the U.S. Others like Alkahraman are waiting for family members in war zones like Syria, the Congo and Afghanistan to join them here.
‘We hear in the news about the awful tragedies that happen and the war that continues there,’ Peckenpaugh said. ‘Some people we’ve resettled in recent years, they lost family members because they don’t get out in time.’
Peckenpaugh said although the agency’s government funding is dependent on refugee arrivals, they have been able to diversify programs and haven’t downsized yet. RISSE director Rifat Filkins said the organization hasn’t felt the impact of reduced numbers because it serves refugees and immigrants who have already been here for years.
According to the United Nations, there are more than 68 million displaced people in the world. The U.S. has resettled three million refugees since 1980. The country accepts the highest number of refugees in the world per year but not the highest percentage of its population. If the U.S. population had the same proportion of refugees as Lebanon, for example, it would host 54 million refugees.
Pompeo told press Monday that the U.S. would focus instead on processing 280,000 more asylum seekers at the borders and strengthening security vetting. He said the refugee ceiling cap shouldn’t be viewed ‘as the sole barometer of America’s commitment to vulnerable people around the world’ and cited the country’s global humanitarian program that gave more than $8 billion this year.”
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