First blocked by Trump’s travel ban, refugees make it to Rhode Island

Members of Dorcas International Institute greet a van carrying refugees Tuesday night.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — For the past 25 years, three brothers from Somalia have lived in a Kenyan refugee camp, hoping to be resettled after escaping their home country as children. The Salat brothers applied for refugee status with the United Nations in 2001.

On Tuesday night, 16 years after they began the process, they arrived in Rhode Island – but their journey wasn’t without hiccups.

Last month, after years of waiting, repeated background checks, in-person interviews and medical clearance, the brothers found out they had been approved to settle in the nation’s smallest state.

But their joy was short-lived; the new U.S. president had signed a travel ban three days prior, on Jan. 27, that blocked travel to the U.S. by people from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Somalia. The ban also temporarily halted the country’s refugee program. The brothers were not allowed to come to Rhode Island.

“It basically disrupted the arrival schedule for a number of refugees that were destined to come to Rhode Island,” explained Baha Sadr, the director of refugee resettlement at Dorcas International Institute in Providence. “Their situation was up in the air because they were from Somalia.”

The Salat brothers were briefly stuck in limbo, and featured as part of a New York Times article about refugees who just missed their chance to come to the U.S. because of the travel ban. The Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya where they had lived for 25 years was threatening to close.

But on Feb. 3, a federal judge in Seattle put a temporary restraining order on Trump’s executive order. A federal appeals court upheld the restraining order last week. The Salat brothers made it to Rhode Island Tuesday night, and will be starting a new life in Providence.

A family reunited

When Sylvie Vambili was pregnant with her son in Ethiopia in 2015, she and her husband Claude Buana Tchiiza found out they’d been approved for refugee resettlement in the United States. She was about to give birth, so her husband, who is originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, traveled on without her just days after baby Dombeni was born. She stayed behind, and registered the new baby for refugee status, waiting for their turn.

Sylvie Vambili and her son Dombeni are reunited with husband and father Claude Buana Tzchiiza.
Sylvie Vambili and her son Dombeni are reunited with husband and father Claude Buana Tzchiiza.

On Tuesday, the mother and one-year-old got off a van at the T.F. Green arrivals gate and greeted her husband, who exclaimed “[the baby] can’t recognize me!” with a big grin on his face.

“When America came to us and said we can help you, we can give you a second chance at life, we said, ‘Wow? That is possible, really?'” Buana Tchiiza said. “Now we are in America, and I say, ‘Thank you, God.'”

President Donald Trump has said he plans to fight in court to re-institute his executive order, which he said is temporary and meant to be in place until “extreme vetting” can be achieved.

Baha Sadr says refugees already go through “rigorous” vetting before they are approved for resettlement, often getting re-vetted as their clearance repeatedly expires while they wait for a spot in the U.S. Less than half of one percent of applicants make it to America, Sadr said.

“Refugees, they are running away from terror. They are running away from lawlessness. So they love to come to a country where there is law and order,” he said. His organization along with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence help resettle hundreds of refugees in Rhode Island each year.

Sadr says a family of six from Iraq along with another Somalian family have also come to Rhode Island since the travel ban was temporarily halted. More are slated to come, but there’s a chance the ban could return.

“The ban … that is a crime against humanity,” Buana Tchiiza said. “People are suffering, they are dying. They don’t have hope.”

Buana Tchiiza, an engineer, left T.F. Green with his wife and son with a smile and a wave. He called out: “Thank you, America!”