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Before accepting Syrians, U.S. must improve refugee support system, UB expert says

Release Date: September 11, 2015

“Of course we need to accept them and we need to accept them now, but unless the infrastructure is fortified right now to help these people, this is not going to be successful.”
Hilary Weaver, professor of social work
University at Buffalo
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Steps must be taken to ensure refugees have the support services they need, says UB's Hilary Weaver.

BUFFALO, N.Y. – It is not enough to bring Syrian refugees to the United States, says Hilary Weaver, University at Buffalo professor of social work. Services must be set up for them once they arrive, she says.

“I am hoping we not only accept more people, but that we fully fund resettlement services,” says Weaver, who is co-director of UB’s Immigrant and Refugee Research Institute. “People fleeing difficult situations typically have medical and mental health needs. Resettlement services are Spartan and are not adequate to help people flourish and be the best they can be in this new context. We need more beyond resettlement services.”

On Thursday, President Obama announced that the U.S. would allow 10,000 Syrian refugees into the country in the next year.

That is certainly a step in the right direction, says Weaver, but that announcement must be followed up with more. Steps must be taken to ensure refugees have the support services they need.

“Often times, especially in a situation where there is going to be an influx of refugees, resettlement agencies are strapped for help,” Weaver says. “So much needs to be done. Apartments need to be provided, and that doesn’t just mean a place to live. These people need help enrolling in school. It is not enough to just bring Syrians here.”

By definition, she says, refugees are people who have experienced trauma. Relocating them into a new cultural context – especially if they are not adequately prepared – only adds to that trauma, she says.

“I don’t think most Americans really think it through,” she says. “We have the humanitarian drive to help them out, but we don’t think about what actually happens when someone gets here. We can’t accept more without the infrastructure. Of course we need to accept them and we need to accept them now, but unless the infrastructure is fortified right now to help these people, this is not going to be successful.”

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