Syrian Refugees

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As Syrian refugees continue to flood out of the war-torn country, some will end up in Arizona. The International Rescue Committee in Phoenix will help those who do arrive adjust to a new life in our state. IRC executive director Donna Magnuson will tell us about those efforts.

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TED SIMONS: The international rescue committee in Phoenix is at work trying to help Syrian refugees who will arrive in Or could arrive in the the valley after fleeing the war-torn middle east. Here to talk about those efforts and just how many Syrian refugees are headed to Arizona, is IRC executive director Donna Magnuson. Welcome.

DONNA MAGNUSON: Thank you for having me.

TED SIMONS: The IRC, just in general, roll with refugees, what are we talking about?

DONNA MAGNUSON: We have been in the valley for a long time, since 1974. In 2015, soon to be ending at the end of our federal fiscal year, we will have resettled 885 individuals from a vast array of countries across the world. Bhutan, Burma, Eritrea, Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and now a small number of Syrians.

TED SIMONS: You mention a small number, how many Syrian refugees -- how many are here and how many are expected to arrive?

DONNA MAGNUSON: Fiscal year '15, presidential determination, the cap was set at 1,500 Syrian refugees over the course of the last year. IRC Phoenix received 28 people.

TED SIMONS: 28.

DONNA MAGNUSON: Five families.

TED SIMONS: Surprised so few?

DONNA MAGNUSON: You know, the Syrian crisis has been going on for five years now. And we're hoping that that number has come up, but the processing to get to the United States is quite a lengthy one, and so we have to get the numbers up in order to see more Syrians be rescued.

TED SIMONS: Let's talk about the process. From the get-go, a Syrian family fleeing Syria, wanting to flee Syria, how do they -- what do they have to do, what do you have to do, what does everyone have to do for them to wind up settled here?

DONNA MAGNUSON: It is a very lengthy process. First thing that people need to do in order to become a refugee is free from your first country and cross an international border. Once they have fled out of Syria, they are eligible to begin to look at that process. Knowing that they have fled for reasons of persecution and extreme violence in the homeland currently. You have seen the media currently to the long journey to safety. The U.S. is a durable solution for refugees, when refugees are allowed entrance in the United States, they're here on a permanent basis. They come in with refugee status. Which means they have proven their well-founded fear of persecution. Once they are here, they are immediately employable, eligible to work, and move on the path to citizenship. It is a very long journey and there are many steps in the way to get here.

TED SIMONS: What about the screening process, how deep is that process --

DONNA MAGNUSON: U.S. government has a very rigid screening process for refugees, starting with an interview that asks them many questions about their fear of persecution and what kinds of things they have experienced and what kinds of violence they have seen. I was -- had the good fortune of watching that a few years ago in terms of the interview itself and I can tell you it is a very rigid screening. But that's only the first step. Once the U.S. government has, you know, decided that this is a person who has a well-founded fear of persecution, then the department of homeland security is involved in a second interview process. If they're able to pass both interview processes with a well-founded fear of persecution, then they will go through another series of very rigid screenings, you know, all kinds of security checks, all kinds of background checks, all kinds of medical screenings, all sorts of things to make sure that they really do have a well-founded fear of persecution and we're letting people in the refugee program who deserve to be here.

TED SIMONS: Once they're here, let's talk about the valley. Do they choose the valley? Does someone -- if they say I want to come to America. They can't speak the language, they don't know Boston from Austin, you know. How do they wind up in the valley?

DONNA MAGNUSON: Well, you no the -- you know, there are two types of categories. One would have a U.S. tie. U.S. tie may mean they have a family member in the valley and we are reunifying families. In most cases, if that isn't the case, they are at the discretion of the government in terms of where they are placed. There are over 300 sites like ours. Not all of the IRC, of course, but we have about 25 of those sites. But really they don't know whether they will end up in Boston or Austin.

TED SIMONS: Once they're here, in the valley, or Boston or Austin, what is expected of them?

DONNA MAGNUSON: U.S. resettlement program is built on the premise of early self-sufficiency. Prior to coming, the orientation, once you get here, you need to find a job, you need to be able to support yourself. You need to be able to move forward, which is the culture of America, of course, and obviously the best way to move forward -- I have been doing this a very long time and I can tell you that it is so gratifying to be able to see someone get off of the plane with their small children and their bag of goodies, which is basically their documents. In many cases, that's all they have. And a couple of years later discover that they have bought a home and started a business and move forward.

TED SIMONS: My goodness. The biggest adjustment for them and challenges they face, the challenges that IRC faces? What are you seeing out there?

DONNA MAGNUSON: Challenges for refugees finding that first job and learning the language and learning the culture. I sort of always pictured myself in the middle of some foreign land wondering what kinds of things would I need to know to live there. You put your selves in those shoes and you think about what refugees need. They're families, people that we recognize.

TED SIMONS: Congratulations on your work. Sounds like you are fighting a good fight there and helping folks that need help and we will see how many folks end up here.

DONNA MAGNUSON: Yes.

TED SIMONS: Thank you for joining us.

DONNA MAGNUSON: Thank you.

TED SIMONS: Thursday on Arizona Horizon we'll take a look at a new state department of education report that finds that over half of responding school districts are facing teacher shortages. Too many teachers are leaving Arizona. That's on the next Arizona Horizon. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thanks so much for joining us, you have a great evening.

VIDEO: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of eight, members of your Arizona --

VIDEO: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Donna Magnuson :Executive director IRC

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