Immigration official explains Connecticut's role in the Syrian refugee crisis

The Syrian refugee crisis has touched nearly every part of the United States and Europe, but most aren’t aware of the role Connecticut plays in this humanitarian crisis. Chris George, the Executive Director of Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, or IRIS, in New Haven, explained the significance of his agency and the state of Connecticut in resettling hundreds of refugees every year.

George began his presentation by explaining his background in the Peace Corps, along with his path to becoming the director of IRIS.

“I began my career in the Peace Corps in 1977,” George began, and went on to relate his experiences in refugee camps in the Middle East. “The Peace Corps a great job teaching you languages, but I learned words in Arabic that the Peace Corps didn’t teach me, like kidnapping, cluster bomb and refugee.”

What stood out about the refugee camps, George said, was the hospitality of those who lived there.

“What I remember most is not so much the squalid conditions or traumatized people or the anger about U.S foreign policy. What I remember most is the amazing hospitality people showed me…They treated me like and honored guest.”

Since he began running IRIS, George said, he’s been repaying that kindness by welcoming refugees to the United States.

“For the past ten years, I’ve been running an organization called IRIS, and our job is to welcome refugees from all over the world and help them find new lives.”

George explained exactly what a refugee is according to international law, and explained the scope of the humanitarian crisis, including the massive number of refugees in the world today.

“What is a refugee? It’s a person who have fled their home because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution. How many people does that happen to? 19 million, that’s how many refugees are in the world today,” George said. “If you count people who haven’t crossed state borders, and thus don’t fall under the international definition, that’s 60 million.”

Before anyone can go from a refugee camp to the U.S, George explained, they are exhaustively interviewed, then fingerprinted and put through FBI and CIA databases to make sure they’re not a threat to security.

“The U.S has the most rigorous screening process in the world,” George said. “European countries work differently. They invite refugees into their country, and they’ll adjudicate them there. The U.S interviews them and screens them outside the country, and only once it is clear they are not a security threat do they get invited to the United States.”

From there, George meticulously explained what refugees can expect if they don’t know anyone in the United States.

“If a family does not have a US friend, or a tie, then they’ll be assigned to a state, potentially one that they’ve never heard of,” George said. “Meanwhile, I’ll get an e-mail on my computer…and my case management department has to go out and find an apartment, then furnish it with donated furniture. If we need help carrying it up flights of stairs, then we get volunteers. We stock the kitchen with three day’s worth of food, and then we find someone in the community who can prepare a culturally appropriate hot meal. That’s a requirement.”

Connecticut plays a bigger role than most realize in the refugee resettlement process as well. George explained that Connecticut plays a significant role in resettling refugees, because the governors of 30 states have blocked any move to resettle refugees in their states.

“In early November, I got a call from the national office…And I heard that there is a Syrian family that’s supposed to go to Indiana, but the governor of Indiana is one of 30 who said Syrian refugees are not welcome. They asked if we can take them in New Haven,” George said. “We got a story in the New York Times, and it’s amazing. News organizations around the world wanted to meet this family, and I got e-mails from people in Indiana saying how can we help this family? The outpouring of support and generosity from across Connecticut was amazing.”

For some students, the presentation helped put some of the statements made by presidential candidates in context.

“You hear so much about this issue as a result of the presidential campaign, so getting information like this is really useful,” Alex Thompson, an eighth semester political science major, said.

On those governors who don’t want refugees, George said, “Those 30 or so governors will have to step back from their position, not only because it’s illegal, but because it’s, dare I say, un-American.”

Other students said the presentation made them believe that the United States could and should do more to help refugees.

“It was a very good presentation, and it had a lot of practical insights,” Tabea Mueller, a German exchange student and psychology major, said. “It does raise some anger in me, though, because it seems like the United States could do so much more for these refugees.”

Those states who don’t want refugees, George said, should send them to Connecticut.

“If South Carolina doesn’t want Syrian refugees, then send them to Connecticut. We know that they’re vetted by the government, we don’t have any security concerns,” George said. “Based on my experience, they’re highly motivated, they’re great neighbors and they’ll make for great US citizens.”


Edward Pankowski is life editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at edward.pankowski@uconn.edu.

The Syrian refugee crisis has touched nearly every part of the United States and Europe, but most aren’t aware of the role Connecticut plays in this humanitarian crisis. Chris George, the Executive Director of Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, or IRIS, in New Haven, explained the significance of his agency and the state of Connecticut in resettling hundreds of refugees every year.

George began his presentation by explaining his background in the Peace Corps, along with his path to becoming the director of IRIS.

“I began my career in the Peace Corps in 1977,” George began, and went on to relate his experiences in refugee camps in the Middle East. “The Peace Corps a great job teaching you languages, but I learned words in Arabic that the Peace Corps didn’t teach me, like kidnapping, cluster bomb and refugee.”

What stood out about the refugee camps, George said, was the hospitality of those who lived there.

“What I remember most is not so much the squalid conditions or traumatized people or the anger about U.S foreign policy. What I remember most is the amazing hospitality people showed me…They treated me like and honored guest.”

Since he began running IRIS, George said, he’s been repaying that kindness by welcoming refugees to the United States.

“For the past ten years, I’ve been running an organization called IRIS, and our job is to welcome refugees from all over the world and help them find new lives.”

George explained exactly what a refugee is according to international law, and explained the scope of the humanitarian crisis, including the massive number of refugees in the world today.

“What is a refugee? It’s a person who have fled their home because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution. How many people does that happen to? 19 million, that’s how many refugees are in the world today,” George said. “If you count people who haven’t crossed state borders, and thus don’t fall under the international definition, that’s 60 million.”

Before anyone can go from a refugee camp to the U.S, George explained, they are exhaustively interviewed, then fingerprinted and put through FBI and CIA databases to make sure they’re not a threat to security.

“The U.S has the most rigorous screening process in the world,” George said. “European countries work differently. They invite refugees into their country, and they’ll adjudicate them there. The U.S interviews them and screens them outside the country, and only once it is clear they are not a security threat do they get invited to the United States.”

From there, George meticulously explained what refugees can expect if they don’t know anyone in the United States.

“If a family does not have a US friend, or a tie, then they’ll be assigned to a state, potentially one that they’ve never heard of,” George said. “Meanwhile, I’ll get an e-mail on my computer…and my case management department has to go out and find an apartment, then furnish it with donated furniture. If we need help carrying it up flights of stairs, then we get volunteers. We stock the kitchen with three day’s worth of food, and then we find someone in the community who can prepare a culturally appropriate hot meal. That’s a requirement.”

Connecticut plays a bigger role than most realize in the refugee resettlement process as well. George explained that Connecticut plays a significant role in resettling refugees, because the governors of 30 states have blocked any move to resettle refugees in their states.

“In early November, I got a call from the national office…And I heard that there is a Syrian family that’s supposed to go to Indiana, but the governor of Indiana is one of 30 who said Syrian refugees are not welcome. They asked if we can take them in New Haven,” George said. “We got a story in the New York Times, and it’s amazing. News organizations around the world wanted to meet this family, and I got e-mails from people in Indiana saying how can we help this family? The outpouring of support and generosity from across Connecticut was amazing.”

For some students, the presentation helped put some of the statements made by presidential candidates in context.

“You hear so much about this issue as a result of the presidential campaign, so getting information like this is really useful,” Alex Thompson, an eighth semester political science major, said.

On those governors who don’t want refugees, George said, “Those 30 or so governors will have to step back from their position, not only because it’s illegal, but because it’s, dare I say, un-American.”

Other students said the presentation made them believe that the United States could and should do more to help refugees.

“It was a very good presentation, and it had a lot of practical insights,” Tabea Mueller, a German exchange student and psychology major, said. “It does raise some anger in me, though, because it seems like the United States could do so much more for these refugees.”

Those states who don’t want refugees, George said, should send them to Connecticut.

“If South Carolina doesn’t want Syrian refugees, then send them to Connecticut. We know that they’re vetted by the government, we don’t have any security concerns,” George said. “Based on my experience, they’re highly motivated, they’re great neighbors and they’ll make for great US citizens.”


Edward Pankowski is life editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at edward.pankowski@uconn.edu.