By Ana Franco-Guzman
Refugees arriving in the United States are resilient people who want to contribute to society, believes Darwensi Clark of the U.S. bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services.
He’s seen it among the refugees he has worked with through the years.
Refugees are in a difficult position, he told Catholic News Service after a recent World Refugee Day program sponsored by MRS. Refugees don’t want to flee their homes and enter into an uncomfortable situation, which no one else would want, said Clark, who is associate director of processing operations for MRS.
For that reason, Americans should work to better understand what’s happening overseas to force people to flee their homeland, Clark said.
A refugee and an asylee shared their stories during the event.
Mussie Hadgu, a refugee from Eritrea who now lives in Arlington, Virginia, said he knows that with hard work anyone can succeed in the U.S.
“It’s hard to be a refugee,” he said. “There are many challenges in coming to a new country.” Mussie fled his beloved country in 2007 and sought refuge in Kenya. He stayed in Kenya for 7 years before resettling in the U.S. with the help of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington.
Yosief Habte is an asylee from Asmara, Eritrea, who shared his story at the event. Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington has helped him find his new jobs, which are working for Metro and, in his free time, doing watercolor and collage paintings.
For the record MRS is the world’s largest nongovernmental resettlement organization. The organization has helped resettle more than 1 million refugees in the U.S. in its 50-year history.
Under definitions of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, a refugee is someone who has been forced to flee their home because of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or participation in a social group.
An asylee is someone who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her homeland or to seek the protection of that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution.
Asylees seek protection once they are in the U.S. while refugees apply for refugee status overseas.
The UNHCR reports there are 19.5 million refugees and 38.2 million internally displaced persons worldwide.
A person must apply for asylum within a year of entering the U.S. or of the expiration of their visa. If accepted, a person can apply for a green card one year after being granted asylum. If asylum is denied the next step is referral to an immigration court for removal proceedings.
The process a refugee undergoes takes one to three years from the date of application with the federal government. A refugee faces a stringent security clearance process which typically lasts 18 to 24 months. For the Syrian population, the process is being expedited, taking one to three months.
Clark told CNS “this country was built on welcoming newcomers into this country and we need to continue to do so. U.S. citizens should understand the importance of resettlement in this country.”