Refugee Resettlement in Upstate NY

By the Numbers

69,933 refugees were admitted to the USA in fiscal year 2015. The 10 largest populations are from:
Burma (18,386 people)
Iraq (12,676 people)
Somalia (8,858 people)
Democratic Republic of Congo (7,876 people)
Bhutan (5,775 people)
Iran (3,109 people)
Syria (1,682 people)
Eritrea (1,596 people)
Sudan (1,578 people)
Cuba (1,527 people)

10 Most widely spoken refugee languages in the US (updated July 31, 2015)
1. Arabic 2. Nepali 3. Somali 4. Sgaw Karen 5. Spanish 6. Chaldean 7. Burmese 8. Armenian 9. Other languages 10. Farsi (Western)

2,477 refugees were admitted to New York State in fiscal year 2015. The 5 largest populations are from:
Burma (1,263 people)
Somalia (790 people)
Bhutan (495 people)
Iraq (430 people)
Democratic Republic of Congo (375 people)

Figures from the Refugee Processing Center.

The Resettlement Process

A refugee is someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” – Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

For an overview of the process of becoming a recognized refugee and coming to the USA, the FAQ for the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) gives a detailed description of the process. Alternatively, read this briefing on the USA refugee admissions program and process from the State Department Website. (Published September 11, 2015). In short:

  1. Become recognized by the UNCHR and USA as a person who is unable to return to your native country owing to a well-founded fear of persecution.
  2. Several rounds of security checks the National Counterterrorism Center, NCTC; the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center; DHS; the Department of Defense; and other agencies.
  3. Health screening to identify diseases of public health significance, including in many cases chest X-rays for tuberculosis. Individuals with communicable diseases may not travel to the USA.
  4. Before departure, refugees receive a cultural orientation about life in the USA and what to expect in their new home. They also sign a promissory note agreeing to pay back travel expenses.
  5. Arrival in the USA.

This process takes 18 to 24 months or longer. However, many individuals stay in refugee camps for years, or even decades before this process even starts. For example, refugees from Burma began arriving in the USA in large numbers in 2007. Some of them had lived in refugee camps in Thailand since 1988. Refugees from Burma were by far the largest group admitted to the USA in 2015.

The United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) works with 9 non-profit domestic “National Voluntary Agencies” in the US to coordinate refugee resettlement to the USA. Each of these agencies works with “local affiliate” organizations that interact with the newly arrived refugees and assist them for the first 90 days in the USA. According to the briefing linked above, there are about 315 local affiliates in about 180 communities throughout the United States.

To give a concrete example of this, the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees (MVRCR) is the local affiliate organization in Utica, NY. Representatives from this organization meet newly arrived refugees at the airport, and make sure they have food, shelter, and basic necessities for the first 90 days in the USA. Refugees are provided with native language support to help them with crucial paperwork, take them to medical appointments, learn about life in the USA. Learn about the services MVRCR provides here. The National Voluntary Agency that works with the UNHCR to coordinate the arrival of new refugees to Utica, NY through MVRCR is Lutheran Immigration Refugee Service (LIRS). LIRS works with local affiliate agencies like MVRCR in 24 states.

Prepared for a presentation to Bridges to Academic Success, a collaborative project of RISLUS and CASE at the CUNY Graduate Center.