INDIANAPOLIS — “We’ve been stockpiling furniture donations we’ve been staying in contact with community partners, it’s going to take a lot of apartment complexes, and volunteers and a lot of employers to get this done,” said Cole Vargas, the Executive Director of Exodus.
Vargas is taking what steps he can right now to prepare to increase the number of refugees his organization will help resettle in Indianapolis.
The local resettlement agency helps refugees when they move to Indianapolis. They also serve people who have received asylum, special immigrant visa holders and foreign born victims of human trafficking.
On Thursday, President Joe Biden signed an executive order that will rebuild the refugee resettlement program in the United States. The program was cut down over the past four years under President Donald Trump.
The U.S. welcomed fewer than 12,000 refugees in the fiscal year between Oct. 1, 2019, and Sept. 30, 2020. Prior to President Barack Obama’s departure from office, the annual cap had reached 110,000 refugees annually. Under President Trump the cap came down to an historic low of 15,000.
President Biden is raising the annual cap to 125,000 starting Oct. 1, 2021. Vargas says this is a massive win for the life-saving and life-giving programs.
In 2016, Exodus welcomed 947 refugees to Indianapolis, including Mohammed Alhamwi and his family.
The family was forced to flee war-torn Syria in 2011. They spent several years living as refugees in Jordan before they were welcomed into the United States.
Alhamwi says he never imagined he would have to leave his home country. “We had seen a lot of people losing their life just because they ask for freedom. So we, my family and my dad,just made a decision that we should leave home just to save our lives,” said Alhamwi.
Since resettling in Indianapolis, Alhamwi has perfected his English, received his G.E.D., attended IVY Tech where he became a certified Medical Assistant. He is working as a Medical Assistant at Eskenazi Hospital while continuing his education.
Throughout the past four years, fewer and fewer refugees have been able to get opportunities like Alhamwi. “This past fiscal year that ended September 30th, we welcomed just 175 people. We had I think 300 Syrians come in 2016, we had one last year,” said Vargas.
And while the new executive order is great progress, Vargas says it will take a lot of work to rebuild the program. “We lost a lot of staff a lot of institutional knowledge during these years and not just us but many agencies and some agencies shuttered completely. Previously there was about 300 offices doing this, right now there is just about 190 or so. To reopen those offices to rehire case managers, employment specialist, housing associates to do all these apartment setups, we’re going to need to see some front-loaded funding from the state department to rebuild all of these networks,” said Vargas.
While much of Alhamwi’s family resettled in Indianapolis in 2016 along with him, his uncle is still in Jordan. “His plan was first to come here, but around 2017 everything was shut down for people to become a refugee in the U.S. He only had one interview but after that everything was shut down so he was not able to complete his application. He has been there since 2012,” said Alhamwi.
The order gives Alhamwi’s family some hope that they will see their loved one soon, and that others will get the second chance there are waiting for. “I’m so happy, me and my family, that my uncle or just other people might get a second chance, because we all deserve a second chance after we lost our home country,” said Alhamwi.