Clearing up misconceptions about refugees

Kelsey Bundra


Lately, there have been many misconceptions about the Syrian refugee crisis and refugees in general. Many people are misinformed with exaggerated numbers and fallacies reinforced by politicians using faulty information.

What qualifies a person as a refugee?

According to the American Immigration Council, refugees are people who are unwilling or unable to return to their home countries because of fear of persecution based on ethnicity, membership in a certain political opinion, religion, national origin or social group.

The UN refugee agency was created to protect refugees and their rights. In 1968, the US agreed to the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, a UN treaty. Because the US ratified the treaty, the US is bound by it. Therefore, the US is obligated to protect refugees and take them in. Later, congress followed up by passing the Refugee Act of 1980.

What rights do refugees have?

The UN High Commission on Refugees states that refugees cannot be forcibly returned to their home countries where they face danger. They are granted the same degree of rights as legal immigrants entering that country including economic and social rights. The UNHCR explains that this includes the right to education, the right to employment and medical care.

How much money does the US provide to resettle refugees?

According to the Atlantic, resettling costs $15,000 per Syrian refugee. Over the next four years, that will total to $60 billion. This figure pales in comparison to how much the US spends on military action in the Middle East. In the long-run, the US will have spent $4 trillion and $6 trillion on military action against Islamic State.

VOLAGS, or Voluntary Agencies, are private agencies that have agreements with the State Department to settle refugees. Overall, there are 300 resettlement sites in the US.

All VOLAGS have an agreement with the federal government to resettle refugees. They receive federal and state grants to do so.

The federal government determines which refugees are allowed in, not the state governments.

After the terrorist attacks that occurred in Paris on Nov. 13, governors of US states have responded. 31 governors have stated that their states will no longer be accepting Syrian refugees fearing that extremists will slip into the US under the guise of asylum. Four states will be taking in Syrian refugees but wish for an increased screening process. Fifteen governors, including PA’s Tom Wolf, have stated that they will continue to accept Syrian refugees without any stipulations.

According to Vox, governors constitutionally do not have this right to determine which refugees will be accepted into their states. The federal government has the sole authority on who will be allowed to enter the US. The state governments do have ways of controlling which refugees are resettled within the state’s borders. State governments can restrict the services provided to certain refugees.

The process is not as easy as some may believe.

There is currently a screening process for refugees in place by the US government. Step one is for the person to qualify as a refugee and obtain refugee status according to the Refugee Council USA. The second step is that once they obtain this status they are referred to the US government, a US embassy or a Non-Governmental Organization. Then a Resettlement Support Center collects the refugee’s personal information and runs a background check and applies for security clearance. The refugee will go the US Department of Homeland Security for an in-person interview. Step four is running advanced securities checks so the refugee can obtain security clearance. The last step is that certain refugees will go through another security review until they are cleared to go through the resettlement process.

Stephanie Gromek, the Community Resource Coordinator at Church World Service (a refugee resettlement agency) explains that Church World Service will not see Syrian refugees from the current crisis until two years or so due to the time-consuming process of travel and resettlement. Syrian refugees heading over to the US during this current refugee crisis will not be seen in Lancaster until two years from now.

Once refugees obtain refugee status and pass all clearances, the resettlement process typically takes 1,000 days. The resettlement process includes housing refugees, teaching them everyday tasks in order to survive in the US, setting them up with English lessons and helping them find employment.

The US doesn’t take in that many refugees compared to the rest of the world.

According to UNHCR, it is estimated that there will be 4.2 Syrian refugees in 2015. In 2014, there was 14.4 million refugees total. For 2016, 85,000 is the US cap for how many total refugees they will resettle. Many critics are calling on the US to take in more Syrian refugees.

“Of the 4 million Syrian refugees who have fled attacks by their government and ISIS, the United States has taken in 0.03% of them,” CNN said. The US has accepted 1,500 Syrian refugees so far.

The top countries that the refugees are emigrating out of are Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia according to an infographic made by Arte. Afghanistan has 2.6 million citizens emigrating elsewhere, 2.5 million Syrian citizens migrate elsewhere and 1.1 million Somalian refugees leave their home country per year.

The refugees from these three countries are resettling in countries close to them. Most refugees coming out Afghanistan are settling in Pakistan and Iran. Most Syrian refugees are settling in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. Somalian refugees are going to Kenya, Chad, Ethiopia and Yemen.

(Kelsey Bundra/Snapper) The top countries that the refugees are emigrating out of are Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia.

The struggle is close to home.

There is a large population of refugees in Lancaster County nearing about 2400. According to, 119 refugees arrived in Lancaster this September.

About 625 refugees are resettled by the VOLAGS in Lancaster every year. Every year Church World Service settles 300 to 325 refugees in Lancaster. Church world Service also has a Cuban/ Haitian entry program that assists 100 to 150 refugees per year. Refugee Services provided by Lutheran Children and Family Service also settles around 150 refugees a year.

There are currently two Syrian refugee families in Lancaster that were settled by Church World Service.