It's one of the things I find people aren't aware of, Wallace said. The term is used so loosely here.
Wallace said that in order to be defined as a refugee, people must meet certain criteria outlined by the Department of Homeland Security. This is also the definition used by the United Nations. Refugees must apply before entering the U.S. and must have experienced life-threatening or potentially life-threatening persecution in their home country or will face said persecution if they return. They must have a credible fear for their lives, Wallace said. And the persecution has to be on the basis of religion, ethnicity, national origin or politics.
Wallace said that the percentage of immigrants who fit that definition each year is very small. She also noted that refugees should not be confused as those receiving asylum. While asylees must meet the same criteria, they are approved for asylum at the point of entry, whereas refugees must apply and go through an exhaustive interview process before arriving in the U.S. Once someone who meets the definition of a refugee arrives in the Syracuse area, the Center for New Americans steps in to help them get settled.
When the Department of Homeland Security sends someone here, we help them, Wallace said. We pick them up at the airport, bring them to an apartment that we have rented and furnished for them, provide them with a hot meal. One of the most important things is making sure their medical needs are met, since many of them may not have received medical care in 10 to 14 years.
The first few months of a refugee's residence in Syracuse include significant assistance from the Center for New Americans.
We help adults enroll in English language training and put the kids in public school, Wallace said. We provide them with clothing and prepare them for employment. Everyone works within 120 days of arrival.