Refugee Assistance Program

A refugee is a person who is outside their home country and who is unable or unwilling to return to that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.-101(a)(42) of the Innigration and Nationality Act (INA)

“Refugee” is a very specific immigration status.  Refugees are not to be confused with migrants such as the thousands of people streaming into Europe, or immigrants who freely relocate to the United States through various visa programs, or the undocumented who enter the country illegally.  They are people who have had to flee their homes because of violence and persecution.  They are invited to the United States by the U.S. Department of State after living, sometimes for several years, in refugee camps around the world.

The U.S. Department of State places refugees in all fifty states by working with nine private non-profit national agencies.  Two of those agencies have affiliates in Rhode Island: Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island and the Diocese of Providence.  Those are the two official resettlement agencies in the state.  It is their job to help refugees find a place to live, get health care, enroll in school, find a job, and apply for public benefits.

Refugees are immediately eligible for benefits.  These are crucial to their survival in a new country and are essential supports until they can become gainfully employed, which they are expected to be within a year.  The RI Department of Human Services is a critical lifeline for refugees.  A staff member of the RI Department of Human Services is designated by the Governor as the State Refugee Coordinator.  The State Refugee Coordinator administers federal grants that come to Rhode Island from the Federal Office of Refugee Resettlement , and ensures coordination of public and private resources in refugee resettlement.

For the last 25 years, the numbers of refugees entering Rhode Island has fluctuated between 150 and 345 refugees each year.  For federal fiscal year 2016 (October 1, 2015 through September 30, 2016) it is projected that 292 refugees will be resettled in Rhode Island: approximately 126 children under 18 and 166 adults.  These refugees will come from 20 to 30 countries, evenly divided among men and women, ranging in ages from infants to 80.

Once the process starts in the refugee camps, the resettlement process can take from 18-24 months.  Besides extensive medical screenings and treatment, all refugees are subject to the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler to the United States, involving the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI including its Terrorist Screening Center, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, and the Department of Defense. All refugees, including Syrians, are admitted only after successful completion of this stringent security screening regime.

The current State Refugee Coordinator is Frederick Sneesby.  He can be contacted at 401-462-1669; frederick.sneesby@dhs.ri.gov.

There is also a State Refugee Health Coordinator who works at the RI Department of Health.  You may click Refugee Health Resources for Refugee information made accessible on the RI Department of Health website.