Panel hosted by Grace Farms to discuss refugee crisis
Published 9:13 am, Friday, May 19, 2017
NEW CANAAN — Much has happened in the United States since Maha Karamahad left her native Syria and was resettled eight months ago in Greenwich.
Donald Trump was elected president and, among his many controversial decisions, attempted to stem the flow of refugees, like Karamahad, entering the U.S. It was a move that sparked considerable outrage, and one whose legality is still in question.
It did, however, highlight the contentious nature of the debate among Americans surrounding the worldwide refugee crisis.
Despite this, and thanks to support from people in her community, Karamahad has begun to make the difficult adjustment into American life.
“Finding a job that was meaningful for me and that made me self-sufficient was important,” Karamahad said. After meeting Claudia Connor, president and CEO of the International Institute of Connecticut, who gave her some career guidance, Karahamad recently landed a job with the nonprofit, Save the Children.
On Friday at 7:30 p.m., Karamahad will join Connor and others working to address the refugee crisis at Grace Farms in a free panel discussion, “The Refugee Crisis and U.S. Response.” They’ll be joined by Larry Yungk, senior resettlement officer at the United Nations’ Refugee Agency and Aleksandr Y. Troyb, chairman of the Executive Committee of the state chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Krishna Patel, Grace Farms’ justice initiative director, will moderate the discussion.
In her work at Bridgeport-based IICONN, Connor helped resettle 129 refugees in 2016, and the organization is on pace to resettle 160 more this year.
“The refugee resettlement and admissions program is a way to provide refugees living in humanitarian crisis, who do not have an option to go home, a safe place to live and an opportunity to educate themselves and have a fresh start,” Connor said.
Connor and IICONN rely predominantly on funding from the U.S. State Department, which is based partly on the number of refugees served. Should the federal proposal to halve the number of refugees admitted into the U.S. — from a little over 100,000 to 50,000 — pass as law, IICONN’s reach would be limited and funding for the organization could significantly decrease.
According to Refugee Agency statistics, there are more than 21.3 million refugees in the world, less than 1 percent of whom are ever resettled. Before coming to the U.S., each candidate must endure a process that could take up to two years and involve as many as eight federal agencies and many background checks.
“We want to raise public awareness. I think there are a lot of misconceptions about refugees. But it’s important to understand that refugees are the most vetted group entering the U.S.,” Patel said.
Troyb has organized response teams and filed cases on behalf of refugees and asylum seekers, at times providing pro bono legal assistance. He has led training programs throughout the state for refugee lawyers and has worked with organizations like IICONN and Grace Farms to raise awareness on the issue.
Most of all, Troyb said, he wants people to learn about the refugee crisis and become “surrogate educators,” beginning a discourse with family and friends
“Get informed and get involved,” Troyb said.
Patel and Connor also stressed the importance of getting involved and getting to know recently resettled neighbors.
“One of the most important things that came across for me in talking to Maha,” Patel said, “is that they never wanted to leave their home. They leave everything behind, and they want so much for Americans to understand who they are and to ask questions.”
Through IICONN, Connor said people can help by mentoring recently resettled refugee families. Business owners can help by providing jobs.
“It’s that instinct of, ‘I own a business, I can make a difference,’” Connor said.
For Karahamand, the opportunity she has been given to work and the exposure it provides her to American culture has greatly helped in her transition, though each day brings new challenges.
“It was overwhelming,” Karahamad said of her first days in America. “I’m fortunate to these people who believed in me and helped me to do what I want to do in my life. It gets easier each day.”