Governor Haslam Open to Refugee Resettlement in Tennessee (Jason McDonald, Contributor, University of Tennessee/Knoxville Daily Beacon)

Posted 10/26/2016

Last month, Gov. Bill Haslam publicly stated that he does not oppose refugee resettlement in Tennessee.

There are some things in the federal government that I don't have a lot of confidence in, but I think they have the right procedures in place," Haslam said when discussing refugees in Tennessee.

As part of an expansion effort by the Obama administration, almost 85,000 new refugees have entered the United States since the beginning of the 2016 fiscal year. Those numbers are only expected to increase in 2017, and some of the new refugees may be coming to Tennessee.

"Funds have been allocated for the 2017 and 2018 fiscal years for approximately 260-270 Syrian refugees to resettle in Knoxville and Chattanooga, " Drocella Mugorewera, the executive director at Knoxville's Bridge Refugee Services, said.

In Syria, more than 11 million people have been displaced due to civil war. To date over 400,000 people have been killed.

After an uprising in March 2011 against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his regime, civil war erupted and violence spread through the country. To escape the violence of the war and the rise of the Islamic State, Syrian citizens began to flee.

Tennessee saw an increase of Syrian refugees in late 2015 as President Obama granted refuge for Syrians fleeing their home country. As of September 2016, Tennessee has accepted 240 Syrian refugees.

In the U.S., the division and decisions regarding placement of refugees are handled in coordination between nine charity groups (seven of which are faith based) and the State Department.

"Each individual resettlement agency works with their local government and community as well as their national office to identify what populations and case demographics they are able to serve based on language capacity, available medical resources, housing and employment opportunities," Kellye Branson, director of Refugee Services for Catholic Charities of Tennessee, said.

The funds for initial resettlement of refugees come from the Department of State and cover the first 30-90 days of services and in some cases can include financial assistance for up to eight months, according to a report released by Tennessee Office of Refugees. Some state or local tax dollars for resettling refugees are tied to food stamps, Department of Homeland Security staff salaries and K-12 education services for any resettled children.

Knoxville does not have any Syrian refugees, but Yassin, who came to the U.S. four years ago in order to escape the civil war, was granted asylum through a different immigration process. He fled Syria because he believed he would have died had he stayed there.

Yassin owns a restaurant in the downtown area. He still has a mother and sister (as well as other close family) in Syria waiting to come to the U.S. When the announcement came that the U.S. would be taking in additional Syrian refugees, Yassin was hopeful that his family would reunite with him soon. However, that has not happened to date.

"None of my family has come to the U.S. yet," Yassin said. "They will not be a part of the people coming in 2017."

According to the US State Department, the waiting time to pass the extensive background checks is approximately 18-24 months, a time frame Yassin feels is too long. The vast majority of U.S.-bound refugees are women and children.

"The process is very, very long," Yassin said. "Sometimes taking even more than 24 months. It is a very long and hard time to wait for an answer."

For assurance of personal safety, Yassin's full name has been excluded from this article to ensure anonymity.


Making a difference since 1962. CATHOLIC CHARITIES

2806 McGavock Pike
Nashville, TN 37214
Office: (615) 352-3087
Fax: (615) 352-8591

© 2019 Catholic Charities of Tennessee, Inc.