Effects Of Shutdown Leave Houston-Bound Refugees In Limbo

Every year between 2,000 and 2,500 refugees from all over the world arrive in Houston, ready to start a new life. They come from war-torn countries such as Burma, Somalia and Iraq, where they’ve been persecuted for different reasons.

Farah Ismail left her home country of Iraq about seven years ago because her family was facing death threats. After fleeing to neighboring Jordan, she was admitted to the United States as a refugee.

Ismail, her husband and their two children have lived in Houston for more than five years now. But her sister and her family are still in Jordan.

“They (were) supposed to come on the 9th of October, they should arrive to New Jersey, and we (were) planning for this arrival for at least, like, four years.”

Instead, they are stranded in Amman, Jordan, without an apartment, without jobs and without school for the kids. Ismail says authorities called her sister and brother-in-law two days before their expected departure and told them they wouldn’t be able to come to the U.S. By then, they had already made all necessary preparations for their big move. And their case isn’t unique.

Sara Kauffman
Sara Kauffman, Houston area director of Refugee Services of Texas

“There’s a lot of families. Nobody know why that’s happened,” says Ismail.

Sara Kauffman, Houston area director of Refugee Services of Texas, knows exactly why.

“They’ve completely stopped all arrivals in the United States other than those highly vulnerable, with the clients that are most at risk, like unaccompanied children, people with very immediate safety and security risks.”

Refugee Services of Texas is one of five agencies in Houston that work with the Office of Refugee Resettlement to help individuals and families get started with their new life here.

Kauffman says because of the shutdown, the government has no funds to pay for refugees’ resettlement. Right now, arrivals are put on hold until at least Oct. 28, even if the shutdown is resolved today. And that date could be moved back even further — leaving families like Farah Ismail’s in limbo.

“Now we’re just waiting and trying to keep family members calm in hopes that this will get resolved and their family members’ travel will be rescheduled and the resettlement will be in place soon.”

And wait is all that Farah Ismail can do as she hopes that the shutdown is resolved before her sister is kicked out of Jordan or worse – has to return to Iraq.

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