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Refugee Resettlement: Pre-arrival and the first 90 days

We are going to take a deep dive into the process of refugee resettlement at the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Wichita. This month, we’ll focus on the basics of initial resettlement, including the process a refugee must undergo to be considered for resettlement in the U.S. and the days leading up to their arrival through the eyes of IRC staff and volunteers in Wichita.

An IRC caseworker, volunteers, and any local family or friends greet the newly arrived refugee individual or family at the airport when they arrive. Photo: Amy Meyer/IRC

First, a few basics:

A refugee is any person who is unable to return to his or her own country because of a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, nationality, political opinion, religion, or social group. In order to be considered a refugee by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), an individual must 1) have crossed an international border and be outside of their home country and 2) have faced persecution or have a well-founded fear of persecution and 3) must be able to prove their identity. Once a refugee has registered with the UNHCR, proving that they meet the criteria above, they wait, often for many years, to be considered for resettlement into a third country, such as the United States. 

Photo: HeritageFoundation

If a refugee is finally selected for resettlement in a third country, the security vetting process begins—a process that averages 24 to 36 months but can last much longer. This lengthy process is the reason refugees are the most thoroughly vetted and scrutinized group entering the United States. Each individual in the family selected to resettle in the U.S. is interviewed multiple times by six federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In addition to interviews, biometric scans and other identifying information is taken and recorded. After the security vetting process is successfully completed and approved by all agencies involved, refugees attend a cultural orientation specific to the country where they will be resettled. With the orientation complete, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) provides a loan to the family and purchases airfare on their behalf—this loan must be paid back to IOM after the family is resettled.  

Once travel arrangements have been made, one of nine resettlement agencies in the U.S., such as the IRC, is selected to receive the refugee family and begins to make arrangements. At the IRC in Wichita, our resettlement caseworkers secure an apartment for the arriving individual or family to rent and coordinates among staff and volunteers to furnish the family’s first home in the U.S. with donated furniture and supplies.

Many community partners, including the Kansas-Wichita Area Council of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), Farmhouse Fraternity, refugee committees at Grace Presbyterian Church and numerous other community members to support apartment setups and gathering donations to turn an empty apartment into a home. 

Volunteers and IRC staff set up the living space for a newly arriving refugee family or individual, ensuring the apartment is furnished and filled with supplies for the first months. Supplies include everything from a bed, sheets and pillow to dishes, toilet paper and shower curtains. 

When the day of arrival finally comes, the newly arrived individual or family’s assigned caseworker, volunteers, and any local friends and family go to the airport to greet the family to welcome them to their new home. The caseworker will then take the family to their apartment and provide an orientation to their new living space, describing the basics as needed and discussing the upcoming days and weeks as they settle in. Before the caseworker leaves, they make sure the family enjoys a culturally-appropriate hot meal—the first after a long journey. From that moment, the caseworker will become the family’s advocate, making sure they are connected to available services and programming, such as ESL and job readiness training, to ensure they positively integrate.

The days following a family’s arrival are a whirlwind of activity as the family is enrolled in various programs, makes their way through service intakes and evaluations and discusses their path to self-sufficiency over the course of the coming months.

Stay tuned to learn more about the next steps a refugee family takes after they first arrive in the U.S. To be the first to receive this update, sign up for our newsletter now>