News from the Week of August 1, 2016

As the United States approaches its deadline for resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016, the White House is poised to meet its goal. Despite a slow start, last month the State Department resettled 2,340 Syrians—more than the entire total settled since the goal was announced in September of last year.

Meeting the goal is vital for President Obama, who is hosting a Refugee Leadership Summit on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in September. At the summit the president is expected to announce the United States’ 2017 refugee resettlement goal as well as call for a worldwide increase in refugee intake and aid funding—requests that would be difficult to make if the United States fails to meet its 2016 goal.

Cities across the country are welcoming newly-resettled Syrian refugees. A CBS St. Louis affiliate reports that by the end of summer the city will have settled over 225 Syrian refugees. Says a Vice President at the International Institute of St. Louis: “Almost all of the Syrians we’re resettling are families. Husband, wife and children,” adding that they have all been vetted through a 13-step process, taking anywhere from 18 months to two years.

The town of Roanoke, Virginia is also doing its share, taking in 21 Syrian refugees since the beginning of the summer, the third largest number in Virginia. Some controversy swept the small town last year when the former mayor called for a halt to Syrian resettlement in the area and drew comparisons with the internment of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War. Perceptions of Syrian refugees have since eased, but it is likely that the issue will remain a contentious topic. “I love that people want to come to America. I think it shows America’s greatness,” says Virginia House Delegate Greg Habeeb (R-Salem), who is of Syrian ancestry. “I think it’s fantastic, if we can properly vet folks.”

Texans are also showing their support for welcoming immigrants and refugees, despite state-level resistance. The city of Houston is preparing to move forward on a new initiative, “Welcoming Houston,” that would gather local leaders to improve opportunities for new Americans. This compassionate message from the Lone Star State’s largest city stands in stark contrast to the actions of the state’s top leaders, who lost a federal case to bar refugee resettlement last month.

In Utah, Congressman Chris Stewart (R) is also setting a positive example for Salt Lake City residents. In a meeting with refugee resettlement advocates, Stewart dropped off a special gift: boxes of school supplies for the 25,000 refugee children starting school in the coming weeks. The Congressman, a member of the House intelligence committee, has been a vocal proponent of refugees and has denounced calls to ban Muslim immigration to the country. “Most Americans are very uncomfortable with that, and I think they should be uncomfortable with that," Stewart said. "Let’s protect our national security, but let’s be generous as we are and as we’ve been for hundreds of years."

Finally, the eyes of the world turn to Rio as we enter the 2017 Olympic Games—and to ten very special athletes. Earlier this week, the Refugee Olympic Team was introduced to the International Olympic Committee to a standing ovation. Representing the 21 million refugees in the world today, these athletes are elevating this year's summer games with an uplifting message. “We still are humans. We are not only refugees. We are like everyone in the world. We can do something. We can achieve something,” said star Syrian swimmer Yusra Mardini. “We didn’t choose to leave our homelands. We didn’t choose the name of refugees… We promise again that we are going to do what it takes to inspire everyone.”

And inspiring they are. For 18-year-old refugee Abdallah, these Olympic games take on new meaning. The young Iraqi, who aspires to be a kickboxer, was forced to flee his home last year; he and his family settled in Germany. “When I first heard about this I felt really happy because having a refugee team in the Olympics represents and proves to the whole world that the word ‘refugees’ is not always associated with fear and weakness . . . now we can prove to the world that we can do a lot of things.”

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