WASHINGTON, D.C. - Flights for refugees who have been approved to come to the United States continue to be canceled, in some cases for the second time.
Last month, CNN reported that travel for refugees who were told they could come to the US was postponed, due to a moratorium on travel that extended through October 21, raising concerns among refugee resettlement agencies.
The moratorium will now run until October 28, with arrivals expected to resume on October 29, according to a State Department spokesperson.
The cancellations could be particularly troubling for refugees whose medical exams or security checks, for example, are on the cusp of expiring. The flight rescheduling also comes at the expense of federal dollars.
The Trump administration has proposed capping the number of refugees allowed into the US at 18,000, a historic low. In a meeting this week, Sen. Lindsey Graham suggested to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the US admit refugees who are travel ready, in addition to the 18,000, according to a congressional aide who attended the meeting.
Graham appeared concerned about the situation in Syria, the aide said.
Clashes on the border between Turkey and Syria appear to have exacerbated the humanitarian situation in Syria, leading many refugees to flee the region. The United Nations' refugee agency said Friday that as of this morning, more than 1,000 Syrian refugees had been transported to a refugee camp.
"Newly arrived refugees told our staff that it took them days to get to the border as they fled amid shelling and fighting. Most of the new arrivals are women, children and elderly. Their general physical condition appears to be good, but some required psychosocial support," the UN refugee agency said.
The proposed 18,000 refugee cap, coupled with the situation in Syria and postponed travel has fueled concerns.
"There were cases that were re-booked in September for October 8 and then re-booked for October 22 and now trying to rebook for October 29. You're basically inserting about a month and a half of when someone was expected to travel and when they are," said Jen Smyers, director of policy and advocacy for the immigration and refugee program at Church World Service, one of the nine resettlement agencies.
More than 200 refugees were expected to travel to the US next week, according to a source familiar. Their flights have been canceled.
The State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration notified resettlement agencies about the cancellations. The International Organization for Migration, which is in charge of booking refugees on their travel, has since sent cancellation notices.
"We will work with our implementing partners to plan for a resumption of refugee arrivals on or after October 29," a State Department spokesperson said, adding: "This will include rescheduling travel for those affected by the extension of the refugee arrivals pause. By law, no refugees may be admitted this fiscal year until the President determines the number that may be admitted. When the Presidential Determination is issued, we will begin admitting refugees in accordance with its provisions."
The canceling and re-booking of refugee flights suggests that there may be a delay in the President signing off on the 18,000-person refugee cap.
As a result of the decline in admissions under the Trump administration, all nine resettlement agencies have had to close offices or pause their placement programs, chipping away at a system designed to not only place refugees but also help them integrate into communities across the country.
As of April 2019, around 100 offices have either closed entirely or suspended their refugee resettlement program, a third of offices nationwide, according to a Refugee Council USA report released this year.
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