15 refugees headed for New Hampshire are put on hold after ban, while dozens more wait 

Published: 1/31/2017 12:11:33 AM

Fifteen refugees fleeing ethnic and religious persecution in Myanmar and the Democratic Republic of Congo who were set to arrive in New Hampshire in February are no longer coming.

It’s one local impact of President Donald Trump’s recent executive order temporarily barring refugees from entering the country. The 15 refugees are being prevented by a provision of the order calling for a 120-day pause on the United States Refugee Admissions Program while administration officials review it and possibly update it.

The group from Myanmar and the Congo includes four children and was scheduled to start emigrating next week with eventual destinations of Concord, Nashua and Manchester.

The group has been in the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program vetting process for the past two years, according to Amy Marchildon, director for Services for New Americans at Ascentria Care Alliance in Concord.

“This four-month pause could translate to months, possibly years, for some families,” Marchildon said. The health screenings refugees go through have an expiration, she explained, meaning potentially extended wait times.

Confusion, anxiety and fear were the reigning emotions with refugees now in limbo and their already-resettled family members in New Hampshire, according to local officials.

“A lot of confusion, concerns,” said Amadou Hamady, Manchester site director for resettlement program the International Institute of New England. “We have others that are now completely in limbo. They were hoping everything would be fine. . . . now they don’t know.”

Hamady said his organization is working with more than 60 other refugees from Bhutan, Iraq, Myanmar and the Democratic Republic of the Congo who were vetted, waiting for their travel dates and now are stuck in the pipeline.

“Now they don’t even know what’s going to happen,” Hamady said. “It’s a lot of pain; it’s everywhere.”

The announcement of Trump’s ban sparked an international outcry. In New Hampshire, it prompted the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union to intervene on behalf of one family.

The state ACLU chapter said Monday that it had provided legal advice to a New Hampshire family that holds green cards, meaning they are permanent legal residents in the U.S., but who were unable to travel home over the weekend because they are from one of the seven countries listed in Trump’s immigration order.

Gilles Bissonnette, legal director of ACLU-NH, declined to identify the family, but said that subsequent rulings were such that the “expectation is that this family will now be able to safely return to their home in New Hampshire.”

Monday also saw community leaders in Concord coming together to plan next steps.

On Monday afternoon, the New Hampshire chapter of the American Friends Service Committee called a meeting to come up with action plans in response to the immigration ban.

Maggie Fogarty, a staff member for the organization, said there was an energy in the room as people talked about potential vigils, education opportunities, connecting people with immigration attorneys and collaborating more effectively with the Islamic Society of Greater Concord.

“How do we make sure Concord is really a safe place for everyone?” Fogarty said. “It was an energetic discussion.”

Fogarty said the meeting – held at the Bhutanese Community of New Hampshire’s Concord office – included local residents; immigrant community, refugee resettlement and faith leaders; civil rights organizations and school representatives.

In addition to ideas for action, Fogarty said people shared some of the most immediate outcomes of Trump’s executive order: anxious immigrant residents; uncertain travel plans; and, for at least one local woman wearing a hijab, verbal harassment in the community.

“I think people see this as a very unpredictable, most likely illegal, very capricious time,” Fogarty said. “That’s very upsetting.”

On the other hand, Monday’s meeting, like the other “spontaneous organizing” across the country, Fogarty said, is a promising sign.

“People know this should not stand,” she said.

Hamady said the local support is encouraging and heartening for refugee families now plunged into uncertainty over whether the U.S. will welcome them.

“People are very scared, but we’re also very happy after what we’ve been seeing,” Hamady said. “It’s just amazing. They feel, ‘maybe there’s a chance for me.’ ”

(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, enilsen@cmonitor.com and on Twitter @ella_nilsen. Elodie Reed can be reached at 369-3306, ereed@cmonitor.com or on Twitter
@elodie_reed. “Monitor” reporter David Brooks contributed to this report.)

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