- Associated Press - Monday, June 20, 2016

ST. LOUIS (AP) - Twenty-six Syrian refugees have arrived in St. Louis to start new lives.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (https://bit.ly/28N2f53 ) reports that the International Institute of St. Louis helped four families make their way to the city over the weekend. Volunteers with the institute spent last week preparing housing and gathering food items for each family.

The families will go through orientation, which includes enrolling in English classes and filling out applications for Social Security cards, Medicaid and food stamps.

President Barack Obama announced in September that he would increase the number of refugees accepted into the U.S. this year from 70,000 to 85,000, with 10,000 of them from Syria.

The institute is expected to sponsor about 965 refugees this year. The organization typically gets seven to 14 days’ notice from the U.S. Department of State that a refugee family is on its way to St. Louis.



To help refugees resettle in the area, the institute relies on about 70 volunteers a week. Volunteers are needed for English classes and to help refugees fill out job applications and write resumes. Volunteers also help refugees who have been in the country for five years study for the test to become U.S. citizens.

Debra Smith, volunteer services coordinator, said the institute has a home visitor program, where volunteers are asked to “be the friendly face of the American people.”

Groups are given an initial allowance from the federal government to assist new refugees, but the funds do not cover all costs. Donations help cover the difference.

Suzanne LeLaurin, senior vice president of programs for the institute, said one of the biggest misconceptions is that refugees are given a “free ride” to the country. As a condition of resettlement, refugees must sign a promissory note agreeing to repay travel costs. The cost of all household items and food bought for a family’s arrival is also deducted from the initial allowance.

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