The refugee debate: Resettlement in the Capital Region

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The ongoing legal battle over President Donald Trump’s immigration ban has paralyzed the U.S. Refugee program.

President Trump said he wants to keep America safe through stricter vetting.  Promoters of the refugee program said the vetting is already thorough.

NEWS10 ABC’s Trishna Begam spent months looking at the refugees who are already in the Capital Region. Last year, the city of Albany resettled close to 600 refugees from countries like Syria and Afghanistan.  She sat down with five of them who had to leave their homes in Syria because of war.

Mohammad Almelhim is one of those refugees.

“I’m a human being,” he said. “When I was in Syria I was human being. I had a job, a family. I’m seeking help. I want to enjoy life in a peaceful way.”

Almelhim’s home was in a city called Homs, a city that became under siege. Most of the men NEWS10 talked to fled from there with their families. They stopped by the station along with an interpreter to share their story.

Aiman Alsman described what he saw:

“Witnessed a lot of terror, bombs, deaths, and in the past we lived in peace. Everybody had a job; had a nice life.”

That nice life fell apart in 2012 after the Arab Spring, and soon after, civil war broke out.

Some of the most horrific images on television news showed children in the middle of a war zone in Aleppo, Syria, a place Fayaz Zakkour used to call home until he had no choice but to leave.

“Went all the way to the borders of Syria and Turkey and walked across the border with my family,” Zakkour recalled.

“It’s as if you’re removing a heart from someone’s body,” Alsman added.

He said that’s the feeling of leaving everything behind. But the men consider themselves the lucky ones.

According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, each year, less than one percent of refugees worldwide are resettled in another country. There are more than 23 million refugees worldwide, which means only 138,000 per year have been given a second chance in a brand new home. The five men NEWS10 interviewed included.

“We’re talking about a two year process with multiple divisions of our government involved,” Stacie Blake with the U.S. Committee of Refugees and Immigrants explained. “Background checks, security checks, iris scans, bio-metric data is collected, and the story of your family.”

Even before that, there’s another layer. A refugee can’t apply to come to the United States. They have to register with the UN, which starts a sorting process to determine who is most in need.

The U.S. has taken the biggest number. Blake said that’s when the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, State Department along with other agencies step in. Their information is vetted against a broad array of law enforcement and intelligence community databases to help confirm identities as well as check for any criminal history. That process takes at least a year.

“If at any point in the process something doesn’t add up, you’re out,” Blake stated. “It’s that simple.”

According to the Center on National Security at Fordham Law, since 9/11 of the more than 900,000 refugees resettled in the U.S. there have been two attacks carried out by a refugee. Neither was fatal.

One took place in September at a Minnesota mall when a man who came to the U.S. as a refugee from Somalia stabbed and injured nine people. Then in November, a Somalian refugee rammed a car into people and stabbed his victims at Ohio State injuring 13 people.

NEWS10 teporter Trishna Begam asked, “What do they tell people who are scared or worried?”

“We are a peaceful people; we came here to live the life we missed,” Alsman responded. “We’re not going to hurt anybody.”

Part Two takes a look at what’s happening in Rutand, Vt. because of the president’s policy changes.

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