After the attacks in Paris, many governors across the nation took a stance on opening their borders to refugees, particularly refugees from Syria. In the Kansas City area, Governors Sam Brownback and Jay Nixon weighed in on both sides of the issue.
“It is imperative that we take action where the White House has not. KS agencies will not assist in relocating Syrian refugees,” Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback wrote on Twitter .
As KCUR’s Elle Moxley reported, Gov. Jay Nixon took the opposite approach, urging Missourians and Missouri charities who work to resettle refugees to continue aiding Syrians.
Resources in the Kansas City area
The Kansas City area has three agencies that work with national organizations to relocate international refugees: Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, Della Lamb in Kansas City, Missouri, and Jewish Vocational Services in Kansas City, Missouri.
The national organizations are called Voluntary Agencies, each with State Department contracts (Cooperative Agreements) to resettle refugees. Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas partners with United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on a national level, Della Lamb with Ethiopian Community Development Council, and Jewish Vocational Services with United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants.
How refugees are resettled in Kansas City
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees coordinates services and action to help refugees. After a refugee flees their home country, the office determines which of three durable solutions is most appropriate: voluntary repatriation (returning home), local integration into the country of first asylum, or permanent resettlement to a third country.
Extensive security checks take place when a refugee applies for permanent resettlement in the United States. The United States currently accepts 70,000 refugees each year and plans to accept more over the coming years.
Incoming refugees are placed with family members already in the United States whenever possible, or in communities where other refugees from their home countries already live.
After a year in the United States, refugees are eligible to apply for a green card. After five years they can apply for citizenship. Refugees are eligible for various support and benefits to assist in their journey towards self-sufficiency.
In fiscal year 2015 Jewish Vocational Services resettled 459 refugees from 12 countries, Steve Weitkamp, Director of Refugee Resettlement Services said in an email.
“Our largest population in fiscal year 2015 was Congolese (118), followed by Somalis and Burmese (109 each), then Iraqis (62), followed by 8 more populations, mostly in the single digits,” he wrote.
Sara Pitia, who recently shared her story on KCUR’s Central Standard, was 3-years-old when her family fled South Sudan. After leaving South Sudan they spent 11 years in Khartoum in North Sudan, then two years in Egypt where they moved around frequently before resettling in Kansas City in 2001. They came to his area to join her mother’s uncle who was resettled here in 1994.
For more on the refugee experience in Kansas city, listen to “Leaving” from KCUR’s Central Standard.
Kyle J Smith is an intern for KCUR's Central Standard. You can find him on Twitter @kjs_37.