A Springdale-based charity is the only entity in Arkansas approved to help resettle Syrian refugees who may qualify under the Obama administration's recent plans to take in an additional 10,000 people fleeing the Middle East conflict. The Springdale branch of Catholic Immigration Services is among some 180 other processing centers around the U.S. on a list compiled by the U.S. State Department.
The charity has been helping refugees resettle in Arkansas since the early 1980's, when thousands of Cubans came to Northwest Arkansas seeking political asylum. That's according to the office's director Frank Head.
Head said the current wave of Syrians face a byzantine process of applications, verifications and interviews to get approval from the United Nations and ultimately, U.S. State Department to resettle here.
“We agreed to settle any refugees the State Department approves as long as they meet the criteria for settling in Arkansas which is at the moment that they have a relative here,” he said.
Head said that requirement could possibly change if there are more refugees than relatives. He says most refugees face at least a one to two year process for resettling in the U.S.
“It's a lot of paperwork, a lot of forms,” he said. “It means verifying that their U.S. connection is going to provide safe housing for them, that they won't be a public charge, that they'll be able to support themselves or be able to get their feet on the ground by the family that's sponsoring them.”
Head said most of the refugees his agency has helped resettle this year are from Burma. He said he's currently unaware of any Syrian refugees resettled in Arkansas through his organization so far.