A matter of life and death for some refugees

DADAAB REFUGEE CAMP (Kenya) • They were deemed the most vulnerable cases - refugees suffering from medical conditions so severe that their journeys to the United States would be expedited.

One is a nine-year-old Somali child in Ethiopia with a congenital heart disease that cannot be treated in a refugee camp. Another is a one-year-old Sudanese boy with cancer. A third is a Somali boy with a severe intestinal disorder, living in a camp that does not even have the colostomy bags he needs.

After President Donald Trump's executive order last week, their resettlement in America was put on hold. Now, the organisation responsible for processing refugees in sub-Saharan Africa, Church World Service (CWS), says the order might have been their death sentence.

The organisation is urging the US government to lift the suspension.

"When you are talking about a nine-year-old with congenital heart problems, a (delay of a) day is too long," said Ms Sarah Krause, senior director of CWS' immigration and refugee programme.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said yesterday that 20,000 people in precarious conditions would be banned from travelling to the US under the 120-day suspension of refugee admissions announced last Friday.

Many of the people were days or weeks away from travelling to the US. Some had already been through a cultural orientation programme. They had passed numerous interviews and security screenings.

Ms Krause said that because many of the refugees' US clearances will expire during the 120-day suspension, it could take them "months or even years to get to complete the process again".

Yesterday, Reuters reported that the US government has granted waivers to let 872 refugees into the country this week. A Homeland Security official confirmed the waivers, noting that the refugees were considered "in transit" and had already been cleared for resettlement before the ban took effect.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 01, 2017, with the headline 'A matter of life and death for some refugees'. Print Edition | Subscribe