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Syrian Refugee Crisis

Syrian refugees receive plastic sheets at a distribution center in Jordan's Za'atari refugee camp. UNHCR/ J. Kohler/November 2013

Syrians & the World Wide Refugee Crisis - International Institute PowerPoint Presentation (Updated March 22, 2016)

Syrian Refugee Crisis - YouTube presentation by Anna Crosslin - December 3, 2015 (43:09)

Why Refugees? - International Institute PowerPoint Presentation (March 21, 2016)

Security Screening Process

Security Screening of Refugees Admitted to the United States: A Detailed, Rigorus Process - USCRI

Security Screening of Refugees Admitted to the United States - USCRI - May 16,2016

Watch: Here's What the Refugee Screening Process Looks Like - The White House Blog - November 24, 2015 (video 4:01)

Infographic: The Screening Process for Refugee Entry into the United States - The White House - November 20, 2015

13 Steps a Refugee Goes Through to Get into the US - YouTube Video (1:49) - November 17, 2015

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Polls, Studies, and Resources

Americans’ views of immigrants marked by widening partisan, generational divides - Pew Research Center - April 15, 2016

Watch: Syrian refugees tell their stories - Brookings Institution - March 3, 2016

Study indicates immigration not to blame for terrorism - Warwick - February 11, 2016

Pentagon says anti-Muslim rhetoric undermines U.S. national security - Reuters - December 8, 2015

Homegrown Jihadists More Dangerous Than Refugees, U.S. Voters Tell Quinnipiac University National Poll - Quinnipiac University - December 3, 2015

ISIS in America: GW Examines Americans Recruited by Islamic State in First Comprehensive Report Media Relations - December 1, 2015

Syrian Refugees Don’t Pose a Serious Security Threat - CATO Institute - November 18, 2015

The Economic Impact of Immigration on St. Louis - a study by Jack Strauss, former Director of the Simon Center for Regional Forecasting, Saint Louis University

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Statements and Faith Support

Prayers and a Statement Condemning Islamophobia and Anti-Immigration Sentiment - Interfaith Partnership of Greater St. Louis - March 22, 2016

St. Louis Regional Chamber Supports the Refugee Programs - November 30, 2015

Syrian Refugee Crisis and Resettlement - A Statement from the International Institute of St. Louis - November 17, 2015

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News Coverage and Press Releases

Syrian Refugees to Arrive in St. Louis Within a Year - CBS St. Louis - May 17, 2016

The Refugee Crisis Told Through Syrian Artists - The World Post - April 12, 2016

After foreign trip, McCaskill vouches for tightness of Syrian refugee screening - St. Louis Post-Dispatch - April 4, 2016

Zaatari Refugee Camp From Above - BBC Shorts - March 2, 2016

Syria's War: The Descent Into Horror - Council on Foreign Relations - March 2016

Why Is It So Difficult for Syrian Refugees to Get Into the U.S.? - The New York Times Magazine - January 20, 2016

How Do Sunni and Shia Islam Differ? - The New York Times - January 3, 2016

Wartime Xenophobia Is An American Tradition - Newsy (video 2:31) - December 9, 2015

Missouri House, Senate joint hearing on state role in refugee assistance - Missourinet - November 30, 2015

It's Been Done: This city let in tens of thousands of mostly Muslim refugees. Here's what happened. - Fusion - November 25, 2015

St. Louis, City of Refuge - St. Louis Magazine - November 25, 2015

How Syrian Refugees Get To The US - Newsy (video 2:38) - November 24, 2015

For Syrian Refugee Building a Life in St. Louis, Backlash Is Crushing - RiverFront Times - November 20, 2015

Video: Syria's war: A 5-minute history

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How You Can Help

In the community or at your place of work:

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Most Commonly Asked Questions

Here are a number of questions which are frequently asked about Syrian and other refugee resettlement. Please read through the list or click on the following set of titles to view the response to a particular question. Thanks.
Click here for a printer friendly version of the questions.

  1. I have a spare bedroom. Can I host a Syrian or other refugee family?
  2. How many refugees are available for resettlement in the US?
  3. We sponsored 65,000 Bosnians to St. Louis, why not 65,000 Syrian refugees?
  4. How do I bring friends/family in Syria to the US?
  5. Refugees get huge settlement grants and interest free loans from the US government, don’t they?
  6. Don’t we risk admitting terrorists posing as Syrian refugees?
  7. Refugees and other immigrants are competition for unemployed Americans, especially African-Americans, aren’t they?
  8. Can we really afford to settle refugees when we have limited dollars and other needs?
  9. Will Syrians embrace our culture?

1. I have a spare bedroom. Can I host a Syrian or other refugee family?

The short answer is “no,” but there are still many ways you can help.

For the past 35 years, the US resettlement program has operated through a network of sectarian and non-sectarian resettlement agencies, which vary from city to city. These national voluntary agencies (VOLAGS) include the International Rescue Committee, World Relief, US Catholic Conference of Bishops, the US Committee for Refugees & Immigrants (USCRI), and others. Local faith-based or other affiliates contract with the US government to resettle refugees, agreeing to locate housing, make referrals for English classes, employment and other adjustment services and to recruit individual volunteers and groups to assist.

In St. Louis, the only agency which is currently approved as a resettlement sponsor is the International Institute of St. Louis, located on Arsenal St., in South St. Louis City. The Institute is presently sponsoring 600-700 refugees annually. Newly arrived refugees are frequently resettled in nearby housing for convenient access to initial transition services. The 95-year old Institute provides a wide variety of services to 7,500 immigrants and refugees annually from 80 countries.

So while offering housing for refugees is not a part of the program, the Institute has a variety of volunteer opportunities where community members can enhance the resettlement process, working alongside of our staff. Visit www.iistl.org to learn about volunteer opportunities and other ways to help.

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2. How many refugees are available for resettlement in the US?

Presently there are more than 60 million refugees and Internally Displaced People (IDP) in the world, resulting in the largest refugee crisis since WWII. (Note: Refugees have fled outside the borders of their home country and IDPs are displaced within their home country.) Twenty million of the total are Syrians including 4 million residing outside the Syrian borders. Some are living in the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)-operated camps in surrounding countries, namely Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt. But most refugees have been residing outside the camps, living in limbo. They have had no jobs, housing or access to schools. Whatever money they had has been running out. Hundreds of thousands have been fleeing to Europe by boat and foot in recent weeks, refugees who were living outside the camps previous to their flight to Europe.

As is the case for most refugee groups, we expect that the bulk of Syrians now living in the camps will want to return to their homes if peace can be negotiated. Others may have opportunities to remain in their temporary host country on a more permanent basis. For a small number, permanent resettlement to a “third country” including the US may be the best option.

Within the camps UNHCR has been working to identify refugees who for a variety of reasons, including medical, family structure and safety, would benefit from third country sponsorship. UNHCR has identified 130,000 so far. Approximately 30,000 of those requests have been filled by traditional third country resettlement countries. Recently, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that in the coming year the US would sponsor 85,000 refugees, of which 15,000 would be Syrian; and the US will sponsor 100,000 refugees the following year, of which 30,000 will be Syrians. Then in mid-October Senator Dick Durbin of IL expressed his opinion publicly that the US should take a leadership position in Syrian resettlement by agreeing to sponsor 100,000 refugees in a multi-year process. In any case, no official number has been determined and Congress has not, at this point, allocated funds to resettle more than the 70,000 refugees which are part of our current annual commitment.

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3. We sponsored 65,000 Bosnians to St. Louis, why not 65,000 Syrian refugees?

While the St. Louis Bosnian community numbers as many as 50,000 today, fewer than 20 percent were actually sponsored directly to St. Louis. And Bosnians were actually sponsored over a period of eight years from 1993-2001. The largest number sponsored annually was 1,500 to 1,800 from 1997-1999.

The balance of the Bosnian community has grown from two sources: 1) Secondary Migration – Bosnians sponsored to other US cities who then during the same eight-year period relocated to St. Louis, and 2) American-born children in Bosnian households. It is estimated that approximately 25,000, half of the Bosnian community, are American-born children of Bosnian refugees and immigrants.

In the past decade local resettlement capacity has in fact decreased, not grown. Most recently Catholic Charities Refugee Services, which was a Bosnian resettlement partner, closed its doors. So the International Institute is now the only approved local refugee sponsor, and IISTL is already sponsoring 600-700 refugees annually. With an increase in community support, IISTL can gear up its sponsorship capacity. But, for a variety of reasons, it would not be logistically possible to directly sponsor 65,000 Syrian refugees to St. Louis even if the US Resettlement Program chose to send such a large number to St. Louis. Remember: 65,000 is the approximate size of St. Charles, MO and therefore seemingly an impossible logistical process to accomplish, especially in one year.

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4. How do I bring friends/family in Syria to the US?

To be considered for the US refugee program, most applicants will have to be located in one of the neighboring countries to Syria (Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, for instance). At this point they are not eligible if they have fled to Europe or still remain in Syria. They will also have to be interviewed by UNHCR teams in one of the neighboring countries and be identified as meeting one of the UN priority reasons to be available for Third Country Resettlement. UN’s attitude is that the best solution is for peace to happen and for the refugees to return home; the second best is for them to resettle in the country to which they have fled; the third best is resettlement to a third country.

Right now, UNHCR has identified 130,000 people in neighboring countries for third country resettlement. Among those who are approved for third country programs, there most likely will be evidence of religious persecution issues, medical problems, gender violence, single parent families, etc. UN has forwarded their names to country teams where visas will be available for resettlement. It is from this group that the US will be drawing for the visas it is setting aside for Syrian refugees. Presently, there are no plans by the US to include refugees who have been flooding into Europe in recent months in the US refugee resettlement program.

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5. Refugees get huge settlement grants and interest free loans from the US government, don’t they?

No. A modest grant of $1,125 is provided on a per capita basis. Resettlement agencies are required to meet a variety of basic needs including housing, food and transportation costs for 90 days after arrival. Frequently, the needs exceed available funding as noted on the following chart:

Household Size Single Person 2 People 3 People 4 People 5 People
Spending Money $20 $30 $30 $40 $40
Security Deposit $500 $500 $550 $650 $800
Rent (3 months) $1,500 $1,500 $1,650 $1,950 $2,400
Home Set-up $400 $500 $600 $900 $1,100
Utilities (3 months) $945 $945 $945 $1,100 $1,100
Food @ 5 day/each $150 $300 $450 $600 $750
Bus Pass (1 month) $90 $180 $180 $240 $240
Subtotal - Expense $3,605 $3,955 $4,405 $5,480 $6,430
Resettlement Allowance $1,125 $2,250 $3,375 $4,500 $5,625
Funding Gap ($2,480) ($1,705) ($1,030) ($980) ($805)

Sometimes, refugees live within walking distance of their services and do not need bus passes; other times their landlord might waive the security deposit. In any case, the resettlement agency must reach out to the community for charitable contributions to meet the funding gap, which averages $100 per refugee sponsored.

To assist with initial transition, refugees are also eligible for TANF benefits (cash assistance) at MO State rates and Medicaid for no longer than eight months after arrival. However, since TANF rates are so low, most newly arrived refugees go to work as soon as they can find a job, regardless of their knowledge of English or previous work experience. For example, in 2014, the percent of families with at least one working adult was:

  1. 4 months after arrival: 67%
  2. 6 months after arrival: 85%

Refugees are required to begin repaying their travel loans which can cost as much as $1,500/person after six months residence in the US.

Finally, there are special small business start-up loans available for refugee entrepreneurs at the International Institute. However, the interest rate for such loans is higher than if they borrowed from a bank. Once they build their credit history and acquire collateral, we encourage such borrowers to seek business loans to a traditional banking institution.

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6. Don’t we risk admitting terrorists posing as Syrian refugees?

Admitting refugees to the US is a time consuming and rigorous multi-step process which can take 18 months to two years to completion. And even then, less than ½ of one percent of the world’s refugees will be selected.

Here is a link to a thorough listing of security and health checks that each refugee must undergo.

Throughout our history, each new refugee group admitted to the US has faced the same fears. In the 1970s and 1980s, there was widespread fear that North Vietnamese soldiers and spies had infiltrated the ranks of the Vietnamese Boat People. In the 1990s, fears were expressed about Bosnian Muslims and their Middle East affiliations. Decades later, as we look back on earlier resettlement waves, we realize that our fears were largely unfounded.

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7. Refugees and other immigrants are competition for unemployed Americans, especially African-Americans, aren’t they?

While it may seem counterintuitive, the presence of a large number of immigrants can actually boost wages and standard of living for low-income native-born Americans, including African-Americans.

In spring 2013 Professor Jack Strauss, Miller Chair of Applied Economics at the University of Denver (and formerly of Saint Louis University) published a landmark study titled, “Allies, Not Enemies: How Latino Immigration Boosts African-American Employment and Wages.”

He used a cross-section of 907 MSAs and 455 Metro areas in 2005, carefully controlling for “cause and effect.” The results were fascinating. For instance, for every 1% increase in a city’s share of Latinos, African-American median and mean wages increased by 3%. He deduced that if St. Louis’s share of Latinos was a high as similarly-sized metro areas, African American wages would be approximately 30% higher. Additionally, he found that such growth in Latinos would result in significant job growth among all African-American age cohorts. There would be fewer in poverty and more with higher incomes as well.

This positive economic impact is related to population. The City of St. Louis has experienced a sharply declining population. St. Louis County population has also declined, albeit more modestly. Fewer residents creates a spiraling down effect, resulting in a lower tax base, school enrollment and the loss of accessible jobs for city residents, many of whom are African-Americans.

We need new population to re-invigorate neighborhoods that are emptying out as residents move to St. Louis County. Since St. Louis and Missouri are comprised of an aging population, we cannot rely on birth rate among our current residents to replace the lost population. Immigration is the best means of increasing our population and rebuilding our cities for the benefit of all.

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8. Can we really afford to settle refugees when we have limited dollars and other needs?

The initial cost of resettling refugees is modest since, within a few years, many refugee newcomers as with other immigrants, start small businesses. In a 2012 study by Professor Jack Strauss (noted in the previous section) title “The Economic Impact of Immigration in St. Louis,” Strauss noted that immigrants, regardless of education and skills background, are 60% more likely to start a small business than native-born Americans. Small business development is a major engine that drives the US economy. These small businesses purchase goods and services from other businesses, pay taxes, and otherwise help local communities, including St. Louis, build their economies to the benefit of all residents.

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9. Will Syrians embrace our culture?

St. Louis’ history and culture are a rich mosaic of the many different groups which have settled here throughout our history. The cultures of Native Americans, Germans, Irish, Italian and others have been joined by those of more recent arrivals including Vietnamese, Bosnian, Hispanic, Chinese, Congolese and more. Each arriving culture has brought new language, food, music, sometimes even religion. But their shared cultural values are frequently the same. Long-timers and newcomers alike value excellent education, religious freedom, family values and the importance of community.

Other Muslims including Iraqis, Bosnians and Iranians have lived in St. Louis for many decades. Their children attend schools with our children; they live in our neighborhoods; they are business owners. They have joined us in the ranks of American citizenship and they love America, their new home when they were left with none. If we welcome them and provide opportunities for them to integrate, these newcomers, and their children, will help form the next generation of Americans dedicated to excellence on a world stage.

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