Morris volunteers in Morris Plains hear bleak report about plight of refugees

From left: Tom Lewis, Alison Millan, Megan Johnson, Gerry Gannon, at RAMP meeting, September 2019. Photo by Marie Pfeifer
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By Marie Pfeifer

Responding to the global refugee crisis, humanitarians from Morris County organized in 2016 and resolved to resettle as many refugees as possible.

RAMP (Refugee Assistance Morris Partners) has chosen to focus on helping vetted Middle Eastern families transition to productive lives of dignity, safety, and hope.

At a RAMP meeting in Morris Plains last week, Alison Millan, resettlement director for the International Rescue Committee; and Megan Johnson, associate director of the immigration and refugee program at Church World Services, gave an update that was not promising for displaced people looking to the U.S. for relief from life-threatening situations and poverty.

Church World Services will not be receiving refugees this coming year.  Instead, the organization will provide support to asylum-seeking families who have been detained.

Johnson, who works closely with asylees, noted that their increasing numbers are causing over-population of U.S. immigration detention centers.

Helping asylees has become more complicated by the U.S. Government’s ban on people who have traveled to the United States through another country. Those people now must apply to that country for asylum.

Asylees are subjected to overcrowded dorms, handcuffs, ankle shackles if they need hospital treatment, and being identified only by their bed numbers, according to Johnson and Millan.

The food is terrible, health care is shoddy and asylees have little contact with the outside world. Detention centers have become more like prisons, where asylees are held for months or years until their cases are heard.

Johnson, a few staff members and many volunteers provide services including temporary housing, clothing, and other necessities.

“We also provide help in preparing the necessary paperwork and finding funding to pay a lawyer and the necessary fees, and cost of a green card, as well as other expenses incurred in launching their journey into their new life. Needless to say, we are continually seeking funds to continue our work,”  Johnson said.

According to the Center for Health Progress, the Trump administration has finalized a change to immigration rules that forces families to choose between the things they need and the people they love.

It would make accessing public benefit programs that help families thrive–-programs like Medicaid, SNAP food assistance, and public housing, among others–-a disqualifier for immigration.

The result: A sicker, hungrier, poorer nation, and an enormous step backwards from achieving health equity, according to Johnson and Millan.

These rules were scheduled to take effect by Oct. 1, 2019, but they may be delayed by litigation. Medicaid, SNAP, and housing benefits used before the effective date will not be considered under the changes.

The “public charge” rule already is used in a very narrow way to deny entry to the U.S., a green card, or other legal status.

Since 2016, RAMP has sponsored five families from Syria and Afghanistan, supporting them as they find lives of safety and prosperity in Morris County.

President Trump’s administration has announced that the number of refugees accepted in the coming year would be slashed to a record low of 18,000. This is drastically lower than the previous all-time low of 27,000 refugees admitted after the 9/11 attack.

The United Nations refugee agency says 70.8 million people are forcibly displaced around the world. Nearly 26 million of these are refugees, with 57 percent of these coming from Syria, Afghanistan, and South Sudan.

For 30 years, the United States was a leader in accepting refugees, Millan said.  “But I am disheartened that Canada has surpassed us as a harbor for refugees.”

“RAMP plans to do what it can to support the refugee/asylee mission in spite of the bleak outlook for significant numbers of new cases,” said RAMP leader Gerry Gannon.

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