Families Torn Apart: Syrian Refugees Face Daunting Challenges in America
LANCASTER, Pa. -- There's been a lot of discussion about how the United States should handle the Syrian refugee crisis. Since the crisis began, 2,000 Syrians have entered the United States under what government officials call a strict vetting process.
But what is life like for the refugees once they arrive on U.S. soil?
Many Middle Eastern refugees arriving in America immediately find themselves faced with new hardships: Where will they live? How will they pay the bills? Where can they learn English? How do they enroll their children in public school?
These are daunting questions Christian groups like Church World Services are helping the refugees answer.
Acclimating to America
Church World Services is a group dedicated to helping refugees acclimate to their new life in America from the moment they arrive.
"We know when a family is coming maybe a month before they arrive," Christine Baer, with Church World Services, said. "We know they're going to come, we get an email, we get an arrival notice, and that's when we start hitting the ground running."
First, CWS finds an affordable house for the family to rent and then stocks it with necessities like furniture, native food, and toiletries.
Next, CWS pairs each new family with a church partner. Fortunately, they currently have a list of churches waiting to sponsor families from all countries and religious backgrounds.
"A welcome team is usually a church group, but sometimes small groups, very intentional groups of people who come together and say, 'We're going to work with a family,'" Baer said. "It adds this holistic element of community."
CWS's end goal is simple: teach each incoming family how to be self-sufficient in America. That process happens through three programs: resettlement, employment counseling, and immigration legal services.
They work closely for up to five years with each family as they acclimate to their new society.
A Family Torn Apart
Farhan, a Syrian, arrived with his family five months ago. Their journey here began in 2011 when the United Nations approached them about resettlement in the United States.
They were then vetted for four years overseas until they received clearance to come to America where they found an unexpected and loving welcome.
"We had a misconception about the people here, but that all changed," Farhan told CBN News.
Thanks to CWS, Farhan is becoming more comfortable every day. His English is improving, he's working, and his daughter made it to the top of her high school class.
Unfortunately for Farhan's family, while they awaited resettlement for three years in a refugee camp in Jordan, one of his sons turned 18. As a legal adult he was separated from his family's case.
"He's in Jordan alone; no one is there to support him," Farhan said. "He's not allowed to work in Jordan. His situation is very dire."
CWS tries to bring families back together, but it is not an easy legal process.
"In our office we're able to apply for family reunification, reuniting family members who have faced that sort of separation," Baer said. "They have to go through that same exact background process as refugees who are arriving without family members already here. So on average that still takes three years after filing that family reunification."
Baer told CBN News about one lonely mom's reunification story.
"We had a woman who arrived at Lancaster and we didn't know she was separated from her husband and children," she explained. "This mother was just recently reunited with her 16-year-old daughter and she had not seen her for six years."
"Being able to offer a space where families can be reunited after being separated for so long is extraordinary. I have no words for it," she said.
A New Community
Baer sees the perseverance of these refugees as a positive and asks Christians to pray for them through their entire journey.
"These families are resilient, survivors in a way, and not in any way helpless," she said.
Farhan wants Americans to know that with a little help in the beginning, Syrian refugees can adjust just fine.
"My call to the American people is that we need help in the beginning, then we will stand on our feet and do our part, and work and we want to work so we can be better and better," he said.
Farhan's family journey has been far from easy, and they still face many challenges ahead. But the support they've received from Church World Services has proved essential to helping them become productive members of their new community, and adjust to new life in America.