Ohio refugees worry about relatives

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins - Associated Press

COLUMBUS (AP) — Somali refugees in Ohio are dealing with more uncertainty about the fate of overseas relatives in light of the proposed White House travel ban and new court decisions blocking that ban.

Ayan Arab, 32, hasn’t seen her husband in five years but had hopes before the ban that he’d cleared the hurdles necessary to join her from a refugee camp in Uganda.

Now she’s back to waiting, worried he’ll have to repeat the process because certain clearances expire, such as medical exams. In the meantime, she’s given up thoughts of flying to visit him, concerned she might not be allowed back in the U.S.

“He cannot come now, even if he’s at the end of the process, and I cannot go see him now,” Arab said through a translator.

The city of Columbus has the country’s largest percentage of Somali refugees, with 5.5 percent, followed closely by Minneapolis. Minnesota overall has the largest number of Somalis.

Layla Muali, raising five children by herself, also hopes her husband, whom she hasn’t seen since 2009, will one day make it to Columbus from a camp in Uganda. She struggles to care for her family, especially their 10-year-old son, who suffered brain damage at birth and requires constant medical care.

The ban affected travel from six predominately Muslim countries, and also reduced the goal for accepting refugees from war torn countries this fiscal year from about 110,000 to 50,000 annually. The Trump administration argued the ban was intended to protect the United States from terrorism.

Judges in Hawaii and Maryland blocked the executive order from taking effect as scheduled on Thursday.

The 50,000 cap has strained the sources of agencies caring for refugees already in the country as money for refugee services dries up, said Angie Plummer, executive director of Community Refugee and Immigration Services in Columbus.

The government pays agencies $950 in administrative costs per refugee. Another $1,125 goes directly to housing and other costs for each refugee, Plummer said.

The cap caused Plummer to lay off nine of 70 employees as the agency faced a $250,000 deficit. Private fundraising has brought in just short of $100,000.

“These are all staff that were highly trained and committed to what they were doing,” Plummer said.

Another Columbus agency, US Together, laid off six people in the midst of a 55 percent cut in funding.

“We still have to provide services to people coming today,” said Nadia Kasvin, US Together resettlement coordinator. “In the midst of laying people off, we had to figure out how to settle people.”

Another Somali refugee in Columbus, Fadumo Hussein, 49, worries about the health of her 76-year-old father and 74-year-old mother. They were approved last year for travel but are still in a camp in Uganda. Her husband is in Malaysia hoping for a visa someday, meaning she has raised four children by herself, working at a day care to make ends meet

“She’s been playing the father role at the same time as the mother role,” said her 20-year-old daughter, Sabah Salem.

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins

Associated Press