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Aid group says Piedmont Triad refugees go through extensive background checks

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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- A local aid organization for refugees is trying to ease federal, state and even local concerns about refugees and national security.

According to North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services statistics, close to 500 refugees relocate to the Triad every year with the Piedmont taking in around 25 percent of the 2,000 refugees sent to North Carolina by the federal government.

“These are people who are persecuted because of their race, religion, their nationality, their political opinion or their membership, in particular, social groups,” said Heather Scavone, director of the Humanitarian Immigration Law Clinic at Elon University’s School of Law.

Law students have helped more than 1,600 refugees with paperwork and immigration issues since 2010. Many of those refugees are escaping religious prosecution such as Christian groups in Egypt, Burma and Vietnam.

Scavone said her position with the university does not allow her to speculate on policy and the push by Governor Pat McCrory to block the acceptance of Syrian refugees into the state. She does feel it’s important for everyone to know there is a very distinct difference between the process of accepting people fleeing countries like Syria and the U.S. resettlement program responsible for the refugees coming into North Carolina every year.

“Refugees that come into the United States have been vetted by the United Nations, by the state department, by homeland security, by the Bureau of Population Refugees and Migration by the U.S. Citizenship and Migration services before they are brought to the US,” said Scavone.

She said that process can take between 18 and 24 months.

“When we hear about the refugee crisis in Europe, those are individuals that are entering at a land border then asking for the protection of refugee status once they get there,” said Scavone. “They've been through no security screening - it's fundamentally different than what we're doing here in the U.S. “

Scavone is hoping the public and elected leaders understand the refugees that find a home in the Greensboro-area have already been through several screening processes to escape some horrible injustices.

“I think there is concern that for refugees that are already resettled in the community -- including women and children -- if public perception is not restored it could put some of them in danger and that's a very serious concern we have,” said Scavone.