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Biden administration rebuilt refugee programmes after Trump-era cuts

Congolese family shown around their new apartment in the United States   -  
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A family from Congo are shown their new home in the United States for the first time. A volunteer from a local church was at the apartment door to welcome them.

“Your new house,” says one of them as the couple and the woman’s brother step into the two-bedroom apartment in South Carolina.

Inside, church volunteers have made quilts for the beds and set out toys for the couple’s son.

“Being the richest country in the world. I think it's really incumbent upon us to welcome people to this country that are from,” says volunteer David Tait.

The family place close attention as a translator walks them through everything they need to know about their apartment.

“We’re happy with wherever they take us, we’re just happy,” says 28-year-old Kaaskile Kashindi through the translator.

He was born in Congo and was just three when he fled with his family to a refugee camp in Tanzania, where he lived until a few weeks ago. That’s when he, his wife, little boy, and brother-in-law moved to Columbia, a university town of 140,000 people.

Scenes like this are becoming more common as the US refugee programme rebounds from cutbacks under former President Donald Trump.

The Biden administration has worked to streamline the process of screening and placing people in the United States, while refugee resettlement agencies have opened new sites across the country.

“What we really do at the end of the day is self-sufficiency and integration. And so any service they need, help integrating into the US, becoming self-sufficient, employment, schooling, housing, and basic needs like food and clothing,” says Seth Hershberger, refugee settlement director for Lutheran Services Carolinas.

In 2020, it settled about 40 refugees in Columbia. This year, the organisation expects to welcome about 440. And it has opened new sites in three other towns.

“A lot of people just assume that all refugees have come across the border. Which, of course is not the reality at all. Some are actually flying in to our airport and coming through legal pathways,” says Hershberger.

Although a divisive campaign issue in the US presidential elections, people say the growing numbers of refugees have generally been welcomed by communities like this one in Columbia.

If President Joe Biden meets his target of 125,000 refugees admitted this year, it would be the highest number of arrivals in more than three decades.

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