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Refugee ministry won't welcome as many this year

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Susan Husson, executive director of Interfaith Refugee Ministry Inc. addresses a crowd at St. Paul's Episcopal church on Feb. 23, 2017. (Joe Pellegrino/The Daily Reflector)


Beth Velliquette

Saturday, February 25, 2017

President Donald Trump’s executive order to reduce the number of refugees to be admitted to the United States is affecting refugees from all over the world, according to the executive director of an area refugee organization.

Susan Husson, executive director of Interfaith Refugee Ministry Inc., an affiliate of the Episcopal Migration Ministries, spoke Thursday evening at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church about refugees coming to the United States and the work that her organization does to help them.

While many focus on Trump’s order about refugees from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen, he also reduced the number of refugees from all over the world who will be allowed to come to the United States during the current fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 1, 2016, to Sept. 30, 2017.

Trump reduced the number from 110,000 people per year, which was President Barack Obama’s ceiling, down to 50,000.

There already are 36,000 refugees here this year, so there will only be 14,000 more allowed into the country by Sept. 30, Husson said.

The Interfaith Refugee Ministry expected to help 210 refugees settle in the area this year, but now that number has been cut by more than half.

“I’m kind of flabbergasted,” she said. ”Our best guess is we might get 84 this year, down from 210. Our worst case would be 54 out of 210.”

Over the years, the Interfaith Refugee Ministry has helped people from Bosnia, Burma, Columbia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, among others, come to eastern North Carolina, Husson said.

They have been vetted and most have been waiting a very long time to come to the United States, she said.

Those who had passed all the physical and security checks and who hoped to come to the United States this year could be set back two years or more, because their security and medical checks will expire and they will have to start over, according to Husson.

Some have been separated from their families and friends and some have been living in refugee camps for years, she said.

Husson recalls people who stayed in refugee camps in Thailand for 15 to 20 years before they even got their first interview with the United Nations.

She told the story of a Kurd from Iraq who helped U.S. forces in 2003 and 2004. 

“They’ve been very anxious to come here for the last 13 years,” she said. “We have a house ready for them. His church has been working very hard to get that ready.

“This man helped us, and it took 13 years to get here,” Husson said. “All this time he has been hoping and praying that he could come.”

Husson explained the process for how a refugee might come to live in eastern North Carolina. It’s a long and very deliberate process that begins at the United Nations. There are many steps and many approvals needed before a person is assigned to the Interfaith Refugee Ministry, which will welcome them and help them get settled, find resources, work and learn English. 

Refugees have been fully vetted and when they come to the United States, they become legal residents, can get social security numbers and work legally, which is different than an illegal immigrant, she said.

Several people in the audience asked what they could do to help.

Tweet, write letters, raise money to help those who come here, volunteer, get educated and speak up, Husson said.

When someone says something about a refugee or the process they go through to get here, speak up kindly, she urged.

“Say, “You may have heard this, but this is what I’ve heard,’” Husson said. ”If you talk to two people or one person and they talk to one person, we can spread the idea that refugees are not people to be afraid of and they are people.”

Bob Hudak, the rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, which hosted the event, wanted to talk about people from Mexico coming to the United States to find work and live.

He explained that because many farm workers in eastern North Carolina work in the fields to put food on our tables, they are at risk of being exploited by their employers.

They often are underpaid, and during the winter, they’re barely able to eat, Hudak said.

“I just know they work all summer and they’re exploited because laws are bent and ... well, I’ll call it slave labor that happens,” he said.

Women are being taken advantage of and men are not getting paid for work they might do because they’re undocumented, Hudak said. That forces them to move into the shadows.

Hudak said he hopes they can help rouse a sleeping country and, as Christians living in a Christian country, follow the teachings of Jesus, especially the Sermon on the Mount.

Contact Beth Velliquette at bvelliquette@reflector.com or at 252-329-9566.