Print options

October 12, 2013

Refugees Waiting Overseas Are in Limbo as U.S. Shutdown Continues

by Kane Farabaugh

The U.S. government shutdown has temporarily frozen resettlement of refugees in some parts of the United States. Dozens from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East who hoped to arrive in the Midwest state of Missouri in October are in limbo abroad. Family members anxiously awaiting their arrival fear the longer the shutdown goes on, the less likely they will reach their destination.

When Man Subba arrived in St. Louis last year, it was the final stop on his flight from Bhutan that began more than a decade earlier.

“It was a hard life,” said Subba.

A life spent mostly in a refugee camp in Nepal, where he lived with his parents and siblings. They belong to an ethnic minority that was politically persecuted in Bhutan.

Now, his family has resettled in the United States - all except his parents. They are currently in a transition center in Nepal's capital, Kathmandu.

They were scheduled to leave for the United States on October 8, but because money for their travel is mostly funded by the U.S. government, those funds are not available while the government is closed.

“This is having some kind of psychological effect on them. And they are saying this time, 'The flight is cancelled. We won’t be coming to America,'” said Subba.

“This is not healthy for our country," said Suzanne LeLaurin, senior vice president at the International Institute, the non-profit group providing the travel funds for Subba’s parents and 34 more refugees - from Iraq, Somalia, Cuba, Burma, and Eritrea. Now, all are in limbo. "It’s not healthy for our reputation around the world, and I think that all of us would wish that Republicans and Democrats alike would sit down and come to an agreement and get the government back in business.”

“We get most of our funding from the federal government, maybe 60 to 70 percent, mostly because of our refugee resettlement services,” said LeLaurin.

She said more is at stake than just resettlement. The support system that helps refugees once they arrive in the U.S. also depends on federal funds. Everything from rent, utilities, and food to staffing the International Institute is at risk as the shutdown continues.

Subba said, for his parents, time is of the essence. If they don’t leave soon, their medical clearance will expire and they will be sent back to the refugee camp in Nepal, and the prospects of getting to the U.S. will diminish. “It is a problem of the government, but it’s having a kind of effect on ordinary people like us.”

They are ordinary people who have dealt with extraordinary circumstances in the hope they might one day reach U.S. shores. For Subba's parents, it's a prospect so close, but because of the gridlock, now further away.