Village Voice 05.10.2017 : Page 24

26 May 10 -May 16, 2017 NEW YORK The city’s refugees from violence and war try to create new lives after unbearable experiences BY SULOME ANDERSON | PHOTOGRAPHS BY DEVIN YALKIN VILLAGE VOICE.com ESCAPE TO L oubna Mrie reclines on a couch in her disheveled Bushwick apart-ment, a computer in her lap and a half-empty jar of Nutella by her side. She’s a petite 26-year-old with hair that explodes around her face in wild ringlets. As she talks in accented but fluent Eng-lish, she periodically digs a knife into the chocolate spread and eats it with gusto. “I have never felt like I’m an outsider in New York, because everyone here is a foreigner,” Loubna says. “Everyone here is broke. That’s the norm here. Living in shitty Brooklyn is not the exception, you know? And here, no one really judges you. Maybe New York is good for traumatized, fucked-up people, because you don’t have time to think of yourself. There is always something going on. You don’t really have time to be like, ‘Let me just sit and cry about what’s happened to me.’ ” She pauses to consider this. “Maybe I’m one of those hipsters now,” she says with concern. Loubna came to the United States in May 2014, fleeing the civil war currently ravaging her country, Syria. Last year, the number of asylum applications pending in the U.S. hit 194,000 — a number that is growing quickly. Loubna’s is one of those. The average time for a petitioner to wait for a decision is about two years, though many wait much longer, trying to navi-gate a complex and overburdened legal process that could mean the difference between life and death. In the year ending September 2016, 5,028 resettled refugees ended up in New York State, about 6 percent of the total number of people granted asylum to the United States. But though New York City is home to a diverse population of immi-grants, a mere 283 of those were resettled in the city. New York has never been an easy city in which to start a life under the best of circumstances, and the high cost of living stymies formal refugee resettlement efforts. Those who arrive, like Loubna, with developed talents and international connections through their work are still thrust into the maelstrom of New York’s competitive cultural life. Others — those resettled with the help of aid organiza-tions, family arrivals from troubled states, undocumented refugees from war and repression — are cut off from the only lives they’ve ever known and struggle to navigate through New York’s pitfalls and opportunities. Refugees, both formally documented and not, flee situations that test their hu-manity and resolve. For people who have been subjected to torture and violence, or who are escaping political persecution, asylum in the United States means an end to the uncertainty and fear of not knowing if they will be sent back to the places they are running from. The recent enactment of harsher im-migration policies by the Trump admin-istration, including a halt to the refugee resettlement program and more strin-gent asylum regulations, has immigrants all over the country nervous about their status — including those living in New York. Now new policies are prompting an uneasy anticipation of the worst from those who have already experienced it. “The narrative coming out of this White House is that asylum seekers, refu-gees, and immigrants are terrorists, are fraudsters, are criminals, and that is ab-solutely not borne out by the clients we

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