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New Haven immigrant welcomes Syrian refugees

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NEW HAVEN - Just one day after Gov. Dannel P. Malloy made national news when he welcomed to New Haven a family of Syrian refugees who were shunned by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a Syrian-New Haven restaurant owner applauded Malloy’s bold stance.

Omar Rajeh has built New Haven’s Mediterranea Restaurant over two decades.

"The time I came here, the first time, I fell in love with New Haven,” said Rajeh, who said that it simply felt like home when he arrived in 1989.

“The people are very mellow, welcoming, with open arms and heart,” he said.

When Malloy announced yesterday, at New Haven City Hall, that a Syrian couple and their four-and-a-half-year-old son was being welcomed to New Haven, Rajeh said he felt like a proud papa.

“Number one, is these children have a home and have peace,” he said.

Rajeh says he has not yet met the newest Syrian family in New Haven, but he soon will.

“We try to help the community, to help them with food and welcoming them here in New Haven,” he said before delivering them a succinct message. “You are in good hands. Don't worry about it. Things will be a lot better and different.”

These refugees ended up in New Haven because the Indiana agency working with the family knew of Connecticut’s humanitarian reputation.

“They've suffered horrendous persecution,” said Chris George, director for the New Haven-based Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services. “They've been forced to flee their country. They go to Jordan. They wait four years there. Rerouting the resettlement from Indiana to Connecticut was nothing.”

Of the roughly 15 Syrian refugee families that have come to Connecticut since that country’s civil war erupted five years ago, eight families live in New Haven.

The numbers are small because the vetting process takes up to three years.

“It (vetting) is relatively tough to conduct on the Syrians,” said George. “We don't have that much information. So, we're not just going to bring someone here and give them the benefit of the doubt.”

The newest refugees are relieved, he says, but also about to be overwhelmed “because starting today, we are going to say to them ‘we're going to enroll your kids in school, we're going to connect you to healthcare, we're gonna help you learn English, but you've got to get a job.’”

George says the governors not admitting Syrian refugees to their states are un-American and uneducated regarding the vetting process.

“It involves one-on-one personal interviews, background checks, biometrics, iris scanning, as well as fingerprints,” he said.

Still, some are not happy with Malloy’s decision.

“Let's take care of our own here,” said Ann Posa of Middlebury. “We have homeless. We have a lot of needy families. And I think we need to have a moratorium right now.”

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