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Connecticut Set to Take In Record Number of Refugees

Dominic Chavez
World Bank
The Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan
"Welcoming persecuted people from all over the world and helping them start new lives is the most noble tradition in this country and it needs to be part of our lives."<br><em>Chris George</em>

A New Haven based refugee resettlement agency is set to welcome a record number of families. That’s due in part to the Obama administration’s goal to accept 85,000 refugees this year, with 10,000 from Syria. 

Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS) is preparing to receive more families this month than they have in entire years, according to Chris George, executive director of IRIS in New Haven.

"[In] 2006, 2007 we welcomed about 70 refugees the entire year and just last month I think we welcomed more than 70," George said. "This month it looks like we could be welcoming close to 100."

The influx is due to a push from Washington to increase the processing of refugees overseas after the initial resettlement effort got off to a slow start. George said they’re now seeing the results of that processing increase with larger numbers of arrivals. But he carefully stressed that does not mean cutting corners on security.

"The vetting process has got to be thorough and rigorous," he said. "They added more facilities, they added more screeners, they put more staff into these overseas vetting centers. So that’s how they were able to process more."

IRIS is one of three agencies in the state that helps refugees with housing, health care, education, and jobs. George said they were able to practically double their numbers this year because of an outpouring of support.

Credit Chion Wolf / WNPR
Chris George

"Community groups that have stepped forward and said, not just 'We want to help refugees' [but] "We want a refugee family in our neighborhood,'" George said. "Most of them want Syrians because that’s what the news media has been [focused] on: the Syrian refugee crisis. And it is the largest refugee crisis in the world."

Most of the arrivals in July and August have been from Syria. While George feels strongly that IRIS and the other Connecticut agencies are well-equipped to handle these large numbers, this is not a one-time event. He’s concerned about sustaining the support after the topic of refugees fades from the spotlight.

"Welcoming persecuted people from all over the world and helping them start new lives is the most noble tradition in this country and it needs to be part of our lives," he said.

The United Nations is scheduled to meet next month in New York where the U.S. is expected to urge other governments around the world to increase their refugee resettlement programs.

Meanwhile in Connecticut, George said the three state agencies combined will likely welcome more than 800 refugees for the year.

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