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Timeline for screening differs for refugees, asylum seekers

Dr. Gigi Sankary and Dr. Fahed Martini tear up as they speak about their flight from Syria and their two daughters, both of whom are in Turkey, from their home in West Toledo. (The Blade/Katie Rausch)

Dr. Gigi Sankary and Dr. Fahed Martini tear up as they speak about their flight from Syria and their two daughters, both of whom are in Turkey, from their home in West Toledo.
(The Blade/Katie Rausch)

Refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers.

Those fleeing violence in Syria and across the Middle East arrive in their new countries through a variety of immigration methods. Much attention has been focused on refugees, those who have been designated by the United Nations as at risk of persecution in their home countries.

But Syrian refugees, of which the United States has taken roughly 2,200 since fiscal year 2012, do not tell the whole story of those seeking safety elsewhere. Those whom United States grants asylum are also given protected status and allowed to stay.

The difference is in the timeline of screening.

Refugees are interviewed and processed by the United Nations before arriving in the country where they ultimately settle and are vetted by several U.S. agencies, including the FBI and Department of Defense. To apply as a refugee, one must have left their country of origin and be displaced externally. Many Syrian refugees are arriving in Jordan, including the Azraq refugee camp, which the U.N. Refugee Agency reported in November had more than 26,000 Syrian refugees living there.

It is in the second country where the United Nations does several rounds of interviews, background checks, iris scans, fingerprints, and other data collection. The interviews determine if individuals have a legitimate claim of persecution as well as screen for security concerns.

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Asylum seekers ask for protection after arriving in the country where they hope to settle.

In the United States, they must be already physically present in the country or at a point of entry, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services under the Department of Homeland Security.

Asylum applications include extensive inquiries into an applicant’s past residences, family members, and description of past or feared persecution, violence, or torture. Applicants are then fingerprinted and an interview is scheduled, often months later.

Immigration Services is currently holding interviews for applications received in May, 2013. If asylum is granted, recipients can petition to bring family members to the United States.

There are two kinds of asylum: affirmative and defensive. Defensive asylum cases are filed on the threat of removal from the United States. Those who are not in removal proceedings file for affirmative asylum.

From October, 2011, through November, 2015, the United States accepted 2,291 Syrian refugees, according to the U.S. Department of State.

During a similar time period, from October, 2011, through March, 2015, more than 4,000 Syrian asylum cases were opened in the United States. Of those, 1,527 were approved. As of March, 2015, there were 2,170 pending asylum cases filed by Syrian nationals, according to USCIS.

Contact Lauren Lindstrom at llindstrom@theblade.com, 419-724-6154, or on Twitter @lelindstrom.

This article first appeared in The Blade and toledoblade.com on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015.