- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 6, 2015

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - A Connecticut interfaith coalition, elected officials and others are pushing to welcome more Syrian refugees to the U.S., while also preparing for the possible arrival of about 100 families to the state.

After seeing photos weeks ago of the Syrian toddler whose body washed ashore in Turkey, about 70 people met to discuss what kind of resources they could assemble to help the refugees in Connecticut and how they might help expedite the resettlement process.

“It was a gut-wrenching wake-up call for all of us that we wanted to get together and do something regardless of our faith background. So we did,” Mongi Dhaouadi, executive director of the Connecticut Council of American-Islamic Relations.

The group has embarked on a plan they’ve dubbed “10 in 10,” which calls for placing 10 families in each of 10 cities across Connecticut. They’ve put together committees, reached out to business owners and cities, and found residents willing to hire and house refugees from Syria, as well as willing to fix up unused buildings to create transitional housing. It’s a concept they believe can be duplicated across the country.

“It’s one thing to call for increased numbers, but we also need organization on the ground to be able to receive refugees once these numbers are increased and the process is expedited,” said Steven Jungkeit, senior minister of the Old Lyme Congregational Church.

The group also met with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut to suggest ways to speed up the processing of Syrian refugees. Some who’ve already arrived in the state said it takes about 18 months to three years to process one person. Of the estimated 100,000 Muslims in Connecticut, an estimated 5,000 are Syrians, Dhaouadi said.

Blumenthal has since unveiled a plan he says aims to eliminate duplicative and wasteful processes while ensuring that security is not compromised. It calls for expanding an existing program that allows refugees with relatives in the U.S. to apply directly to the federal government for screening and resettlement rather than seeking a referral from the United Nations High Commission on Refugees or other entities.

The plan is also aimed at improving coordination to eliminate repetitive security checks, allowing videoconferencing for security screenings and providing new notifications to family members when each one is approved for resettlement, giving families the option to immediately resettle individuals while waiting for others to be processed.

Ghufran Allababidi, a Syrian immigrant who now lives in Connecticut, visited Turkey over the summer. She described seeing Syrian families struggling to survive. She said families are living “almost in caves” and children aren’t attending school. She saw 10-year-old girls selling tissues to earn money.

“I’ve seen families who’ve lost everything but their hope,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking what’s going on in Syria.”

Chris George, executive director of the New Haven-based IRIS, said there is strong support in Connecticut to help the Syrians. Integrated Refugee and Immigration Services is one of 350 refugee resettlement agencies across the U.S.

“We can take on many, many more. We are ready to welcome more,” he said. “We have amazing community support in Connecticut. My phone has been ringing off the hook. My email mailbox is overflowing with offers of support from all over the state. From Woodstock to Wilton, people want to help refugees.”

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