Government shutdown puts refugee arrivals on hold
October 15, 2013 by Vanessa Pirandello
|IRC staff welcome arriving refugees at the airport and help them to build new lives in more than 22 cities across the United States. The U.S. government shutdown is delaying new arrivals and having a serious effect on the IRC's ability to provide essential services to recently resettled refugees. Photo: Misha Cohen/IRC|
Update, Oct. 22. 2013: The 16-day U.S. government shutdown delayed indefinitely the arrival of refugees who already had been approved for resettlement in the United States. We'll provide updates on the situation as we receive them.
The U.S. government shutdown is having a serious effect on refugee resettlement, delaying the arrival of people who already have been waiting a long time for the chance to come to the United States to restart their lives.
“For the affected refugees — who are among the world’s most vulnerable people — the delay is of real concern,” explains David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee. “Those expecting to travel in the coming weeks would have cut their ties, moved their families, and sold their possessions. A delay such as this prolongs the uncertainty they have been living with, some for as long as decades, and in certain cases could put their lives at additional risk.”
The much anticipated reunion of two cousins, both refugees from Myanmar (also known as Burma) — one already in New York since 2012, the other still in Malaysia waiting to be resettled — took a turn for the worst on Oct. 15 as the moratorium on refugee arrivals in the U.S. extended into its third week.
A frantic phone call from Malaysia shattered the hopes of Moe, age 35, who had been anticipating the arrival of his cousin, Tin*, age 16, an urban refugee in Kuala Lumpur. “My medical screening appointment was canceled,” Tin told Moe, who lives in New York City. “They say I will not be flying to America on October 22. What should I do? I already quit my job!”
“Go to the U.N. office and ask them when you will be able to leave,” Moe advised. “Go back to your employer and try to get rehired. Be careful.”
Tin had been lucky to find employment at a Chinese restaurant that provided him with food and lodging. As the date of his departure for the U.S. was getting closer, he left his job, packed up his meager belongings and moved in with a friend for what was supposed to be the end of his six-year ordeal. Tin’s resettlement case had been initiated more than three years ago.
“In Malaysia, the situation toward refugees is worse now than it was before,” Moe says. “Tin is a minor. It is not safe for him there. He could get arrested any time.”
Meanwhile, Moe had been making arrangements for Tin’s arrival for the last three months, trying to find an affordable space which would allow him, his wife, Zin, and their three-month-old son, Maung, to welcome the fourth member of their family. Distraught by the sudden change in plans, Moe feels powerless to help his anxious cousin.
The IRC is paying close attention to the ways in which the shutdown is affecting our work with refugees, both here in the U.S. and around the world. For the moment, we are using private funding to ensure that refugees already in America are not adversely affected by the politics of Washington. We hope for a resolution to this standoff in the near future.
*Names have been changed to protect the family's privacy