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Syrian Refugees Face Lengthy Process for US Resettlement

A Syrian refugee holds a baby moments after arriving on a dinghy on the Greek island of Lesbos, Sept. 11, 2015.

With the United States preparing to taking in more displaced Syrians, a State Department official shed more light Friday on the U.S. vetting process for accepting refugees, which can take 18 months to two years.

President Barack Obama on Thursday committed the United States to taking in at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the coming fiscal year.

The State Department said those expected to be admitted would most likely come from a list of almost 18,000 referrals from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the world body's refugee agency.

The official said the process includes an initial interview with the refugee on location by a Department of Homeland Security officer.

Refugees under consideration for resettlement undergo multiagency security checks as well as a health screening to identify any diseases of public health significance.

The official said most receive “cultural orientation,” a three-day class to provide them with information about the United States and the resettlement process.

The United States then works with nine domestic agencies to resettle refugees in the country. The official said these agencies have more than 300 affiliates in about 180 U.S. communities.

The official said three U.S. government agencies involved in resettlement — the State, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services departments — spent more than $1 billion last year to admit about 70,000 refugees to the U.S.

One refugee's experience

Syrian-American Bilal Kanawati is familiar with the U.S. process. He said his family invested more than a year of work and $6,000 in an effort to relocate his cousin’s family from Damascus, only to see their case denied.

“There was no reason. Just denied,” Kanawati told VOA via Skype, who said the family includes a husband, wife, four children and an elderly aunt.

He said his cousin's 15-year-old daughter died after suffering from an allergic reaction. "They took her to the hospital, but there were so many checkpoints on the way from where they were living," he said. "She died on the way."

Kanawati said the family’s home has since been destroyed by shelling and the family members have split up to live with different relatives.

It's been heartbreaking for the whole family, he said: "We had so many plans for them and, you know, how they were going to stay in our house and how we were going to get them out of the problem over there. And it becomes like dreams shattered.”

Despite the setback, Kanawati said his family plans to launch a new effort to get his relatives resettled in the United States.

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