They were deemed the most vulnerable cases: refugees suffering from medical conditions so severe that normally their journeys to the United States would be expedited.
One is a 9-year-old Somali child in Ethiopia with a congenital heart disease that cannot be treated in a refugee camp. Another is a 1-year-old Sudanese boy with cancer. A third is a Somali boy with a severe intestinal disorder living in a camp that doesn’t even have the colostomy bags he needs.
After President Trump’s executive order last week, their resettlement in America was put on hold. Now, the organization responsible for processing refugees in sub-Saharan Africa, Church World Service, says that order could be their death sentence.
The organization compiled an internal list of some of its most desperate cases, and it is urging the U.S. government to lift the suspension. “When you’re talking about a 9-year-old with congenital heart problems, a [delay of a] day is too long,” said Sarah Krause, the senior director of Church World Service’s immigration and refugee program. “It is unnecessary for these individuals to die while waiting for resettlement.”
The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said Monday that 20,000 people in precarious conditions would be banned from traveling to the United States under the 120-day suspension on refugee admissions that was announced Friday.
The Trump administration said it stopped accepting refugees temporarily to study ways to ensure that the new arrivals don’t pose a threat to the United States.
But the U.N. agency noted that the refugees it referred to the U.S. government for resettlement are highly vulnerable — including people in need of urgent medical assistance or survivors of torture.
About 80,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa are at some stage of the U.S. refugee process, which can take years to complete. Of those, about 2,000 are deemed “most vulnerable,” because of urgent medical problems or “extreme protection concerns” such as worries about their safety or well-being, according to Church World Service, which represents dozens of Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox religious communities and also works with refugee resettlement offices across the United States.
The U.S. executive order allows the secretaries of state and homeland security to admit individuals as refugees on a case-by-case basis “in the national interest,” but it is not yet clear whether that would help the individuals on the Church World Service list. A call to the State Department for comment was not immediately returned on Monday.