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Travel ban halts funding to refugee organizations

Posted February 2

— President Donald Trump's executive order temporarily blocking refugees from entering the U.S. also puts a stop to federal funding of groups that help with resettlement efforts.

The order issued last week calls for an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees and a four-month halt to refugees from other countries. It also bars immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries for three months.

"The most pain is being felt by Durham’s newest community members, the refugees that have come just the past few months or maybe the past year or two who have been working really hard to bring their family members out of danger and back to join them," said Adam Clark, director of World Relief Durham. "We feel their pain. We’re there with them every day. We’re sitting in their living rooms listening to them cry and their worries. ... What we know right now is that their families will be separated, and we don’t know when they’ll be joined again."

World Relief Durham and Church World Service get as much as half of their annual budgets from federal funding, which is doled out based on the number of refugees they serve to provide housing and job services, English classes and other assistance to get the refugees settled in to their new lives in the U.S.

"If the refugees don't come, neither does the funding," Clark said, noting his organization has already worked with 100 refugees in the last four months.

"The executive order, while completely crushing many refugees’ hopes and dreams, also decimates the current operating plans for a lot of refugee resettlement agencies," said Ellen Andrews, director of Church World Service's office in Durham. "Any resettlement agency relying on funding from that program is seriously considering how they’re going to be paying their basic expenses at this point."

Muktar Muktar said he escaped war-torn Somalia, where a militia killed his father, brother and wife, and lived in a refugee camp in Kenya for 20 years before finally relocating to the Triangle last March.

"For a long time, I am waiting for this opportunity to come and to build my future," Muktar said, noting he spent nine years in the refugee process.

Clark said such stories are common among refugees.

"Most of our clients are fleeing some form of violence," he said. "We’re talking about the world’s most vulnerable people. It’s sad to see us turn our backs on so many of them who have done everything we’ve asked them to do. They’ve been screened for years, and they’re ready to come."

Community members have stepped up to provide money and to volunteer at both World Relief Durham and Church World Service to ease the strain of the temporary loss of federal funding, but Clark said long-term challenges remain.

Trump's order caps the number of refugees the U.S. will accept each year – once the temporary halt is lifted – at 50,000, which is less than half the 110,000 former President Barack Obama was allowing.

"The biggest tragedy right now is that the number of people who are fleeing war and genocide and ethnic cleansing in the world and are able to come here as refugees, that number has been slashed," Clark said. "Most of our staff, and myself included, we’re still thinking about the loss of 60,000 people and what they’re going to be put through now that they’re not able to come here. We’re scared for them."


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