IRIS Resettles Syrian Refugees

Aliyya Swaby PhotoAs the U.S. moves cautiously to opening its doors to tens of thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing civil war, New Haven’s Integrated Refugee and Immigration Services (IRIS) has resettled four families from that conflict with another on the way to New Haven.

IRIS Executive Director Chris George (pictured) said that his Nicoll Street-based organization and the other 300-plus refugee resettlement groups in the country are ready to help more refugees—possibly hundreds of thousands more. He made the remarks on WNHH radio’s “At the Moment” program with Sharon Benzoni.

IRIS has placed the first four families in homes in the East Rock and Fair Haven neighborhoods as well as West Haven, while the agency works with them to get settled. The families arrived here between July 28 and Aug. 4.

George said the Syrian families at IRIS do not wish to speak with the press because they don’t want their identity known for fear of retaliation against their friends and family remaining home, where a civil war has claimed a quarter-million lives and sent half the nation’s population from its homes.

“Some have had harrowing experiences,” George said.

One family had just left home minutes before its house was blown up. Another was separated from an older son who was being pressured to join the government-backed military and is now in a refugee camp in Jordan.

“They’re tough people and they’ve gone through a lot,” George said. “They’re going to make great neighbors.”

He said IRIS will help the families get on their feet, but they have to do the hard work of quickly getting jobs, some of which will be far beneath what they might be used to. The parents of the families worked at shopkeeper, driving, teaching, restaurant, and construction jobs in Syria. The families are learning English now and beginning to seek jobs.

“They’ll work their way up. And they do well. And their kids do well,” George said. “Their kids will arrive not speaking a word of English, and then, you know a year later, they’re wining academic awards. Wilbur Cross High School graduated a number of refugee kids. One of them sang the national anthem at the graduation ceremony.”

Though European states have been bearing the brunt of figuring out how to cope with the millions that are fleeing Syria, George characterized the U.S. response as “disturbing” and “standing on the sideline.”

President Barack Obama announced Thursday that the U.S. will take at least 10,000 Syrian refugees. U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy has called on the country to accept 50,000 refugees. George said the country can and should take many more because the the U.S. can handle more, and because it is the right thing to do.

“Look back to 1980,” George said. “In 1980, this country brought in 215,000 Vietnamese in one year. That’s the scale of our response. That’s the scale our response should be. It’s an enormous humanitarian crisis. Our response needs to match that. So 5,000 doesn’t cut it. Now we’ve heard reports that behind closed doors Secretary [of State John] Kerry mentioned that well maybe it would be 30,000, so we would go from 70,000 to 100,000. It needs to be two or three times the 70,000 over the next year.”

George said IRIS and similar resettlement organizations across the country like it, stand ready to help, but the government has to have the political will to act.

“The network is there. All of us have been getting emails and phone calls about community support,” he said. “I mean I’m getting phone calls and emails from Woodstock, Connecticut, from Darien, from Branford, from Guilford, from all across New Haven from across the state.  Churches, synagogues, Muslim groups, individuals of every political stripe saying, ‘We want to help.’”

George said his staff also is ready. “We’re flexible and agile enough to expand. We just need the government to bring the refugees. This is life-saving help and the benefit for us is they enrich our community, make us stronger, strengthen the economy.”

He said what people might not understand is that refugees—defined in international law as people “forced to flee their home country because they’ve persecuted or they have a well-founded fear of persecution — persecution because of their race, their religion, their nationality, their social group or their political opinion”—come from all varying socioeconomic groups. That means a number of refugees will be professionals such as teachers, doctors and engineers.

“Einstein was a refugee,” George pointed out. “We get people who speak English fluently. We get people who taught English. So talented, resourceful, motivated people move quickly into jobs. They have to. We don’t have enough funding to support them forever.”

He said the resettlement organizations will help the families get on their feet but they have to do the hard work of quickly getting jobs, some of which will be far beneath what they might be used to, and learning English if they don’t already speak it. But in his years of experience, refugees do that hard work, quickly, and they do it well, ultimately becoming very productive citizens of the United States.

George said if the government decides to accept hundreds of thousands of refugees it is going to take money, but it would be a good investment with an even better return. He said organizations would have to hire more staff to provide things like case management help finding jobs and learning English. But for every tax dollar the government spends there is $3 of private assistance from volunteers and donations.

Thanks to social media, the outpouring of support for the Syrian refugees is already flowing, George said.

“The biggest question for the first couple of weeks was ‘What can we do? How can we help?’’” he said. The response has been contact your government representative and tell them to bring more refugees. IRIS resettles about 230 refugees a year, but to respond to the Syrian crisis, George said that there would be a need to double that amount each year.

George said inviting refugees to the United States strengthens the country as a whole in many ways.

“They make us strong. They help us understand the world,” he said. “The United States needs to be more global minded. You go to school with a refugee sitting next to you, you’ll get some insight into how the world thinks of the United States — this kind of love-hate relationship in many cases. So they internationalize us. It’s really the best thing that this country does, inviting persecuted people to come here and start new lives. It’s the Statue of Liberty—what makes us proud. And that’s why, honestly, I wasn’t surprised when I heard yesterday Donald Trump announced that he would be in favor of bringing Syrian refugees to this country. He said, ‘I reach this position very reluctantly,’ he said, ‘because I don’t like the idea of bringing all these people here, but for humanitarian reasons we have to do it.’

“Which confirms something I’ve said over the years about this program, which is humanitarianism and hospitality trumps politics. No matter what your political opinion is, hospitality is really in our DNA to welcome persecuted people in this country. That takes precedence and even when the economy is down we’ll still invite refugees to come.”

Click on the sound file above to hear the interview, or find the episode in iTunes or any podcast app under “WNHH Community Radio.”

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posted by: Bradley on September 11, 2015  12:56pm

First, IRIS is a great organization. People can help by providing job and housing leads and donating household goods. Cash is always useful, as well.

Second, I don’t think the survey question conveys what Ms. Ricks (or Paul) had in mind.  As the article notes, the U.S. currently accepts about 70,000 refugees per year.  I believe the survey is trying to get people’s thoughts on how many ADDITIONAL refugees should be accepted.

[Ed.: Thanks! “Additional” added to the True Vote.]

posted by: wendy1 on September 11, 2015  1:24pm

This country has never been good at rescuing victims of it’s foreign policy and it’s wars.  Americans are ethnocentric and it hurts the image we project.  I believe there should be no limit to Syrians, Afgani’s, Iranians, Iraqi’s, and others we have put in peril from around the globe.  We are ALL immigrants and have something to offer if we are allowed or have the opportunity.  I say this also aware of the unending Jim Crow status for black Americans.

posted by: TheMadcap on September 11, 2015  3:46pm

We should at least be able to match Germany given the fact they have just over a 1/4 of our population size. 10,000 additional refugees from the world’s worst refugee problem is an absurdly small number for a nation of 316 million people that is supposed to in theory embody providing shelter for oppressed peoples and has an active role in the conflict that created this diaspora.

posted by: eliantonio on September 11, 2015  3:56pm

As long as there is ONE homeless new havener, the answer has to be NONE.
You have to take care of yourself before you can properly take care of others, we are not taking care of our collective self.
Local homeless man is hacked up in pieces, but our attention is 8,000 miles away?  NO!
Common sense, THEN compassion.

posted by: NeededToBeSaid on September 12, 2015  8:45am

The United States cannot afford to take on any more debt.  I agree with “eliantonio”.  We are unable to provide proper nutrition, medical attention, education, housing, and protection to our own population.  Every year the United States is forced to choose between either eliminating programs crucial to the people in need that are already here or adding even more expenses to our already overburdened taxpayers.  When did it become so unpopular to help people we already have in the United States, that we would rather spend money to transport additional people in need from the other side of the world?

Other countries with far less debt and more advanced social programs have attempted to open their doors to help the migrant problems and have met disastrous results.  The countries listed below have already tried this experiment and it failed miserably.  Sweden, Norway, Britain, Australia, Belgium, and France, all now face more slums, increased crime, social unrest, and security threats as a result.

posted by: TheMadcap on September 12, 2015  5:50pm

Yes, the noted failed and high crime nations of Australia, Belgium. Just come out and say you don’t like Muslims. ~Security threat~
The monetary argument is ludicrous, we could easily take care of the homeless if we wanted to, we all collectively choose not to because the myth of boot straps and making everything into tax credits and dedications instead of direct subsidies so middle\upper class people I’m the burbs can pretend the $40+ billion spent on the home mortgage deduction for example totally isn’t a form of state assistance.

posted by: Bradley on September 12, 2015  7:14pm

I believe there has been at least on homeless New Havener throughout most if not all of the city’s history. Therefore, according to Eliantonio, the United States should have never have accepted a single victim of the Irish famine (including my ancestors), the progroms of the late 19th century, or the political repression of Castro’s regime in the late 20th century.

I was around when the U.S. accepted over 200,000 refugees from Viet Nam. The economy absorbed the influx (about 0.1% of the population at that time) without significant problems. I have no doubt that today’‘s economy can absorb 10,000 Syrians - about 0.03% of the current population.

We are able to provide to provide proper nutrition, etc. to our own population. We instead choose to fund a defense budget that is larger than that of all of our potential adversaries and most of our allies put together. I suspect the cost to taxpayers of admitting the 10,000 refugees could be offset by eliminating the “carried interest” tax break for hedge fund administrators, something that even Donald Trump has endorsed.

I’ve been to several of the countries that NeededToBeSaid cites and worked in one of them (Britain).  The crime rate in all of these countries is a fraction of the rate here, even though they have accepted far many more refugees, proportionately,  than the U.S.  The slums in Europe are unpleasant - no one goes to the banlieues of Paris for fun. But they are not as nasty as their U.S. counterparts.

posted by: NeededToBeSaid on September 12, 2015  10:45pm

To TheMadcap:  I did “come out and say” what I wanted, and it was not about disliking any particular religion as you have IMPROPERLY paraphrased.  You are basing your assumptions on affordability based on changes you would LIKE to see in our tax system.  To my knowledge there is no bill being discussed in Congress referring to the changes you would like to happen and thus your argument is based on “wishful thinking” and not the current U.S. financial situation.
My statements are based on the current reality of what is happening now as a result of migrants entering other countries and the state of our nation’s economy.  I am also referring to the countries mentioned because, they started their efforts on migrant problems from a much better fiscal and social program vantage point than we are in.  If we see their efforts failing, what fantasy makes the outcome in our country any different, if not worse?

To Bradley:  I’ve spent time in Britain as well.  My statement was that their crime rate and slums have risen, and you point out that it is still less than the United States.  Your statement only bolsters my argument that as a country with an even higher starting crime rate, the result of taking more migrants rather than help the people in need already here would be worse.
I would bring to your attention that you are also basing your opinion of affordability on an elimination of the “carried interest” tax break , a law that does not exists.  So again your premise of being able to afford absorbing 10,000 more migrants is based on wishful thinking about an event that has not and possibly will not ever happen. 
I would also remind you that during the Irish migration our population was much lower and during the influx of Vietnamese immigration we were beginning a period of almost unprecedented economic growth at approximately the same time.  Neither comparison is valid to conditions of the current situation.
The open door program for migrants is failing in the many coun

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on September 13, 2015  1:21am

For those who say Muslims are a Security threat.Have we forgot.How about these people who was take in by the U.S.

Nazis Were Given ‘Safe Haven’ in U.S., Report Says

WASHINGTON — A secret history of the United States government’s Nazi-hunting operation concludes that American intelligence officials created a “safe haven” in the United States for Nazis and their collaborators after World War II, and it details decades of clashes, often hidden, with other nations over war criminals here and abroad.

The 600-page report, which the Justice Department has tried to keep secret for four years, provides new evidence about more than two dozen of the most notorious Nazi cases of the last three decades.

It describes the government’s posthumous pursuit of Dr. Josef Mengele, the so-called Angel of Death at Auschwitz, part of whose scalp was kept in a Justice Department official’s drawer; the vigilante killing of a former Waffen SS soldier in New Jersey; and the government’s mistaken identification of the Treblinka concentration camp guard known as Ivan the Terrible.

posted by: eliantonio on September 13, 2015  11:08am

My great great great grandparents came over in 1844 from ireland, and their countrymen overwhelmed the new york area, for fifty plus years they lived in unimaginable poverty, and only gained “respect”, like the italians and hispanics after them, because they were able to climb over the american born peoples of africian decent.
for 150 years after emancipation, this group of people has been cast aside to the corner of our concerns while we welcome “new blood”.
this is a large part of why we need to finally address our past honestly and and completely to move forward, and until we do this, we should hang out the “no vacancy” sign.
Like i said, we need to take care of our own house before we starting building houses for others.

posted by: TheMadcap on September 13, 2015  12:24pm

Probably because their efforts are not failing, and the US economy is doing better than almost every European economy. The lack of social programs of US citizens is again, not a lack of resources, it’s a lack of desire among your fellow citizens. People are not homeless or hungry in New Haven and elsewhere because of refugees are stealing their resources, nor are these people going to get help if we don’t accept refugees.

posted by: NeededToBeSaid on September 13, 2015  12:35pm

continuation of previously incomplete comment…
The open door program for migrants is failing in the many countries I have mentioned.  The chance of the United States avoiding a similar fate, burdened with an even higher national debt and crime/ incarceration rate is not realistic.  We need to concentrate our efforts and attention to the problems of housing (I don’t think the homeless people standing in line at the soup kitchens, and staying in the overnight shelter on Grand street would agree adequate progress has been made.) , education, and protection for the people in the U.S. now.  Importing additional people in need to our country, when we cannot or will not help the people already here is a recipe for disaster and a disservice to our fellow Americans.

posted by: Bradley on September 14, 2015  7:27am

@NeededToBeSaid, you are of course correct when you say that the U.S. population was much smaller during the 19th century immigration waves. But the immigrants were a larger share of the country’s population and the country was much poorer.

Income inequality has risen as quickly in Britain as it has in the U.S.  I think this is as plausible an explanation for the social problems that have arisen there as immigration.

When a plumber fixes your sink, the money he or she makes in providing this service is treated as income for tax purposes. The carried interest a hedge fund manager makes for providing “services” is taxed at a substantially lower rate. It is not an exemption, but it is a tax break.

You’re entirely correct that we should more to help the homeless etc. (FWIW, once I finish this post I will be helping out at the Sunshine Cafe, which provides breakfast to the homeless.)  We have the resources to do this and accept more refugees. In addition to cutting defense spending, we can eliminate or reduce tax breaks that primarily benefit the well-to-do.

posted by: anonymous on September 14, 2015  11:37am

Unicef says there are 2,000,000 children refugee children from Syria living outside of Syria now. 

The US could easily afford to, and would benefit by, resettling all of them and their families in the next 5 years.

posted by: HhE on September 15, 2015  9:13am

Is this really the face of a progressive city?  We have problems of our own, so we ought not help you.  People who are homeless are so for a range of reasons, including mental health problems, bad choices they have made, slipping through the cracks of social welfare programs, and a host of other reasons.  The cost of settling refugee families here, so they can become productive Americans, is not very high, and it pays for itself in the gain of productive citizens and in our moral standing in the world.  Germany now has a moral high ground over us – Germany – “Shame, shame, miserable shame, let life be short or shame will be too long.”  I have an idea, what if everyone here who cannot trace at least one ancestor back to 1776, pack up and go back to the old country?  I will get to stay, and I will gladly welcome the refuges.  At the end of the day, the USA has always been a settler country (unlike Germany), and is configured to accept new people.