World Relief shows human toll of refugee ban

 
 
Updated 2/3/2017 11:01 AM
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Alhussein Al Saadi wonders when he will be able to reunite with his brother.

He volunteers with World Relief to resettle other refugees in the suburbs. But his brother remains in their native Iraq.

Al Saadi fled their country in 2012 and has built a new life in Carol Stream, but questions when -- or if -- his brother can, too.

Those hopes were cast in doubt when President Donald Trump temporarily banned refugees from coming into the United States.

But Al Saadi took comfort in the crowd that warmly welcomed him and filled a Wheaton church Thursday night, almost one week after Trump signed the executive order.

"We're not alone in this," he said.

World Relief leaders from the nonprofit group's Aurora and Wheaton offices held the meeting to describe the "human cost" that they say extends far beyond the 120-day ban on arrivals of refugees from around the world.

The order Trump signed last Friday also bars Syrian refugees from entering the country indefinitely and blocks citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days while his administration considers screening procedures.

"That has a human cost and a human face to it," World Relief DuPage/Aurora Executive Director Susan Sperry said. "It's people who were waiting to be reunited with relatives and are now questioning whether that can ever happen."

Refugees in the last phase of the resettlement process -- final health checks and cultural orientation -- typically leave camps in Kenya weeks in advance and already were in transit when Trump issued the ban, Sperry said. The group is primarily Somalis.

"There have been groups of refugees there who have been told, 'No, you have to go back to the camp.' They've already given up their homes. Other refugees moved in," Sperry said.

"They've given up whatever possessions they had, very often, and they're at a place now of scrambling, 'What to do we do?'"

World Relief resettled more than 650 refugees in DuPage last year and provides legal advice, job counseling and English as a Second Language classes, among other services.

The current screening process involves multiple federal departments and multiple steps, including background checks, retina scans and in-person interviews, said Matthew Soerens, U.S. director of church mobilization at World Relief.

"And 120 days from now, those security screenings will have expired and that health screening will have expired, and they're going to have to go back and do those things again, and that's not as easy as going to three offices in the same day," Soerens said. " ... And so that whole process is going to be clogged up."

Less than one percent of the world's refugees even get considered or referred for U.S. resettlement, he said.

"We have a strong system in place for vetting refugees," he said.

After the meeting, Al Saadi left later Wednesday night for O'Hare International Airport to welcome refugees from Ukraine, the last family World Relief was slated to resettle.

"I'm going to tell that story to my grandchildren," he said.

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