NORTHAMPTON, Mass. (WWLP) – The 22News I-Team used a translator to speak exclusively to a Syrian refugee, who now lives in western Massachusetts with his family.
It has been three years since Ahmad took his family, and ran from the civil war in Syria. “I took my family and ran away because everywhere you look there is blood, everywhere you look there are people who are crying. I can still hear the noise in my head, the bombing, the crying,” he said.
Ahmad left Syria in 2013 with his wife, and children, to escape the civil war. He’s one of thousands of Syrian refugees that have resettled in the United States since the Syrian civil war first began 5-years ago.
The I-Team asked him about a common fear in the U.S., that if we keep accepting refugees, one of them could end up posing a danger. His translator said, “Coming from the situation he came from, he never wants anybody to experience what he has experienced, never wants to see a bullet coming out and killing anybody, or a mom crying because she lost her kids,” she said.
Related: Syrian Refugees in the United States
22News first exposed a plan to resettle more than 50 Syrian refugees in Northampton in September. The 22News I-Team has done some digging since then, and discovered, that’s just a fraction of the number of refugees who will be moving into Massachusetts this year.
More than 12,500 Syrian refugees resettled in the United States in the last year.
According to the Department of State, 1,453 refugees of all nationalities relocated to Massachusetts in FY 2016, 113 of those refugees came from Syria. The 22News I-Team obtained data from the Massachusetts Office for Refugees and Immigrants that shows a disproportionate number of those refugees resettled in western Massachusetts.
- 55 resettled in western Massachusetts
- 33 resettled in central Massachusetts
- 43 resettled in Merrimack Valley
- 0 resettled in eastern Massachusetts
A majority of the refugees that resettled in western Massachusetts live in West Springfield, Westfield, and Springfield.
According to the Massachusetts Office for Refugees and Immigrants, they look at factors like public transportation, employment opportunities, cost of housing, and nearby family members when deciding where to place refugees. They also look at which local resettlement agencies have necessary resources to assist refugees, including translators who can help them communicate.
Kathryn Buckley-Brown, the executive director of Catholic Charities, will help 51 Syrian refugees resettle in Northampton this year.
Buckley-Brown told the I-Team that overall, hundreds of refugees of all nationalities will be moving to western Massachusetts. “Somewhere between 600, that would be coming to western Massachusetts in the next year or so,” she said.
The I-Team asked Buckley-Brown whether residents have any say over how many refugees resettle in their communities. “To say that residents don’t have a say in it, would say that they don’t have a voice in their own government, and that simply isn’t true. However, the department of state really is the one that has the ultimate authority to admit people,” she said.
There’s nothing residents, local, or even state lawmakers can do to prevent refugees from resettling in their city or town.
The I-Team also found out that accepting refugees into the U.S. costs us, the taxpayers, more than $1 billion in federal taxes a year.
Buckley-Brown said each individual refugee get a one time federal stipend. “When refugees arrive, they receive $1,125 a person, and that’s what they receive. That comes from the federal government. Cash assistance that they receive then has to do with the public benefits they’d be eligible for,” she said.
Refugees are expected to support themselves after 8 months of living in the U.S. According to the Massachusetts Office for Refugees and Immigrants, 70% of refugees that resettled in Massachusetts got a job in 2015, increasing Cash Assistance Terminations by 20%.
The I-Team also obtained documents about the screening process refugees must undergo before entering the United States. According to the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, all Syrian refugees must first be referred to the United States by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. After that, they go through a security clearance process. A Resettlement Support Center, contracted by the Department of State, compiles the refugee’s personal data and background information for the security clearance process, which they then present to the Dept. of Homeland Security, for an in-person interview. The State Department runs the names of all refugees through a standard Consular Lookout and Support System name check. Fingerprints and photographs are also taken, and checked against various U.S. government databases.
Once that process is complete, all refugee applicants are interviewed by an officer from DHS’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. If they qualify and obtain DHS approval, they undergo a medical screening conducted by the International Organization for Migration or physician, designated by the U.S. Embassy. The entire approval process can take between one and two years.
The federal government then assign all approved refugees to a Voluntary Agency, who will place refugees with a local partner agency, or office that will assist them upon their arrival.
There are more than 250 local affiliates across the country, including three in western Massachusetts: Catholic Charities, the Jewish Family Service of Western Massachusetts, which assisted 241 refugees, including 39 Syrian refugees relocate to western Massachusetts in FY 2016, and Ascentria Care Alliance, which declined to provide the I-Team with information for this story.