Over 260 refugees who were vetted, approved, and booked on flights to start new lives in the US have had their flights cancelled last minute, refugee resettlement agencies say.
The disappointment comes following record-low refugee admission caps installed under Donald Trump at 15,000 people, which Mr Biden has yet to formally overturn despite expressing the intention to do so.
Mr Biden proposed quadrupling refugee admissions and eliminating Mr Trump’s restrictions in a plan that was communicated to Congress three weeks ago, but has not yet issued a presidential determination in line with the plan.
The determination does not require congressional approval and is required by law and past presidents have issued determinations on the cap of admissions shortly after the notification to Congress.
The State Department, which coordinates flights with resettlement agencies, booked flights for refugees anticipating that Mr Biden would have replaced the previous orders, according to the agencies.
Now, it has been forced to cancel the flights of at least 264 refugees and more cancellations are expected, the agencies said.
“The President is committed to strengthening the operations of the United States Refugee Admissions Programme,” a White House spokesperson told HuffPost last week.
“While no firm numbers have been finalised, the president’s view is clear: This programme will reflect the generosity and core values of the United States while benefiting from the many contributions that refugees make to our country.”
The Associated Press said the administration gave no explanation about the delay or cancellation of flights when asked about the situation last Thursday.
The Independent has contacted the White House for further comment.
Mark Hetfield, president of HIAS, a Maryland-based Jewish nonprofit that is one of nine agencies that resettle refugees in the US, said that “real lives are being impacted” by the delay.
“To say I am very disappointed that the Biden administration would treat refugees this way would be an understatement,” he said.
The delay is causing untold anguish and emotional distress to refugees who had anticipated a new life and their families who planned for their return who have been let down last minute.
Felix Ndayisenga, 45, told HuffPost that he hadn’t seen his nephew for over 20 years since after fleeing the Democratic Republic of the Congo amid war.
His nephew’s family had been cleared to travel to the US and had given up all their belongings in preparation, but later found out that their flight was cancelled.
“We have been waiting for this moment for a long time,” Mr Ndayisenga told the outlet. “These people need to get to a safe place. They are in a prison there.”
Poneo Wilondja, 25, who resettled alone in Salt Lake City in June 2019, hoped his family would soon join him but was prevented from doing so by the Trump administration’s refugee cap.
While he regained hope that his family had been among those cleared to travel to the US in March, he was heartbroken to learn from the local resettlement agency that their flight was upended.
“Without my family here, I have a lot of stress,” said Mr Wilondja. “I feel lonely all the time.”
Melaku Gebretsadik, 54, an Eritrean refugee who lives in Greeley, Colorado, had been on his way to the Denver airport on Tuesday with flowers and gifts to greet his wife and three children when he heard the disappointing news.
“My heart was broken,” Mr Gebretsadik said through an interpreter.
Natalie El-Deiry, the executive director for the International Rescue Committee in Salt Lake City and Missoula, Montana told HuffPost that the delay “causes a great deal of stress and can be somewhat demoralising” to families.
She added that she was “hopeful” the Biden administration will raise the cap and begin repairing the system.
Additional reporting by the Associated Press
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