Category Archives: Repatriation

An Overseas Adventure Becomes a Nightmare

Imagine this: You are a U.S. Citizen who moves overseas to start a new adventure with your spouse and four children. That adventure quickly becomes a nightmare when your partner becomes angry and abusive, causing you and your children to flee for safety. Your spouse has control of your finances, leaving you destitute. You need to return to the U.S. to seek safety, but without family or finances to help you, you are scared, alone, and unsure of how to get back.

Now, imagine the added complication of worrying whether you and your children will be allowed to enter the U.S. because you are fleeing from a country on the U.S. travel ban list.

This is the scenario that **Tina and her children faced before being helped by the Repatriation program.

Repatriating Tina Back to the U.S. During the Travel Ban

The U.S. Repatriation program provides assistance to eligible people who are destitute, severely ill, or suffering from psychological disorders and who need to return to the United States. The program is established to help the most vulnerable who have no other resources to do this on their own. Returning U.S. Citizens are expected to pay back their travel and assistance loans as soon as they can. Although the repatriation program can provide assistance in the form of a loan for up to 90 days, many individuals and families are able to become independent within an average of 30 days or less with the help of their case managers.

Samaritas Collaborates to Resettle Tina

Providing cross-border services to vulnerable returning populations is impossible without effective partners in the state where a client is returning. International Social Service-USA, the U.S. repatriation partner of the U.S. government, coordinates services between the sending U.S. consulates overseas and the state appointed partner. In this particular scenario, the partner appointed by the State of Michigan, where our client was returning to, is Samaritas.

Samaritas is the largest refugee resettlement, foster care, and adoption organization in Michigan. “Samaritas has 40 programs in 70 cities across Michigan, making it the second or third largest social service organization in Michigan,” stated Mihaela Mitrofan, Program Manager, New Americans. “With a diverse, multilingual staff of recent as well as born and raised Americans, there is wide coverage across the state and vast expertise working with children, families and adult in a variety of capacities. Samaritas is an ideal repatriation program partner,” stated Julie Gilbert Rosicky, Executive Director.

When Tina and her children were scheduled to arrive in Detroit earlier this year, Samaritas appointed a case manager to meet them at the airport. Because there was some concern about whether this American family would be allowed to enter the U.S. from a Middle Eastern country, International Social Service and Samaritas caseworkers were on standby to do whatever was needed to assist if the family was detained or if the return trip was delayed or rescheduled.

Fortunately, Tina and her children arrived as scheduled and were greeted by a caseworker who also happened to be from the Middle Eastern country from where they were fleeing. She provided them with familiar food as well as warm clothes upon their arrival to help them adjust from a warm climate to Detroit in the dead of winter. Samaritas case workers graciously picked them up in the early evening from the airport and took them to a family shelter, where they stayed temporarily until more permanent arrangements could be made.

Caseworkers Help Tina Acclimate to a New Environment

The caseworker worked with Tina to find employment, counseling for victims of domestic violence, permanent housing, and a school where the children could be enrolled. One of the children had a learning disability, so the case manager helped Tina find local services to address the learning disability. The case manager, having gone through the resettlement process as a former refugee when she was a child, formed an immediate bond with this family, which still continues long after services were concluded. Together, they developed a case management plan to help get them back on their feet as quickly as possible.

See more information about the U.S. Repatriation Program.
See more information about Samaritas here.

**Names and some details have been changed in this account to protect the confidentiality and anonymity of the family involved.

Alone and Mentally Ill in a Foreign Country: Bringing a Vulnerable Son Home

risky business

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. In our work to safely reunite people across borders, we often help vulnerable individuals return to the U.S. from overseas when they are experiencing mental health issues. Navigating life with a mental health condition is difficult. Our cross-border services can help, as they did in Matthew’s case.

A Bright Young Man Suffers From Mental Illness
Matthew, an intelligent, hardworking, and successful young man, got married after college and started a painting business. At 26 years old, Matthew started experiencing delusions and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Although he functioned well for several years by taking medication and seeing a doctor, one day, Matthew’s mental health issues worsened to the point where he felt compelled to seek asylum in a foreign country.

The Cross-Border Challenge: Michael Vanishes Without a Trace
Nothing would prepare Matthew’s mother, Raina, and his wife, Sarah, for the day that Matthew went missing. They knew that Matthew had traveled to Washington D.C., but they couldn’t find any evidence of where he went afterwards. They were able to locate Matthew’s abandoned hotel room and truck in the hotel garage, both of which still had his belongings in them. After scanning credit card purchases and having conversations with their friends, the police, and others in D.C., Raina and Sarah deduced that Matthew had flown to Oslo, Norway.

Panic and Uncertainty Across Borders
Raina worked tirelessly to find Matthew and make sure he was okay. The Embassy checked on Matthew, who discovered that the Salvation Army was caring for him but could not convince him to voluntarily receive mental health treatment. Raina was faced with an impossible decision: should she travel alone to Norway to try to persuade Matthew to come home, or should she stay in the U.S. and keep checking on him? Afraid that seeing her might further escalate Michael’s already fragile state, she chose to remain in the U.S. and monitor the situation from there. Raina was in frequent contact with the U.S. Consulate and the Salvation Army, who were her allies in keeping tabs on Matthew.

Raina’s voice broke when she described her helplessness and panic after she viewed Matthew’s YouTube videos that he posted while in Norway. “Sometimes they were ok, or just nonsensical, but other times he just seemed to be getting worse and worse.”

Eventually, Matthew had overstayed his visit in Norway. As a U.S. Citizen, the Norwegian government and the U.S. Consulate could set about a chain of events to bring Matthew home through immigration enforcement in Norway.

The U.S. Repatriation Program: Helping Matthew Get Home
International Social Service, a partner of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, coordinates between consulates overseas and partners in each U.S. state to help destitute and mentally ill U.S. citizens safely return to the U.S. from overseas. Our casework team facilitates communication between countries, coordinates travel, and links people to services such as medical or mental health care, housing, food, and employment, upon their return. When resettled, repatriates are expected to pay back the costs of their return and the costs of services. Most are reintegrated fairly quickly and are back on their feet in an average of 45 days.

“You just have to keep on trying until you get him home. And thank god for all the good people out there that were willing to help”

— Raina

Reintegration: Getting Matthew the Best Possible Care
The consular officer in Oslo and an International Social Service caseworker created a repatriation plan suited to Matthew’s mental health needs. The repatriation team took Raina’s wishes into account; they worked hard to place Matthew in a hospital where he had a treatment history and already knew the doctors and nurses well. Mental health experts in Norway ensured Matthew was stable enough to travel. After arriving in the U.S., Matthew was hospitalized immediately so he could receive psychological care. Raina advocated for Matthew to stay beyond the hospital’s 24-hour period so he could receive thorough treatment that he desperately needed, and eventually, she was able to secure a court order to do so. Raina hopes Matthew will remain stable, but she knows that a relapse is likely. Although the journey home was intensely stressful, Raina is relieved that repatriation services could reunite them and get Matthew the care that he desperately needed.

Easing Uncertainty in Stressful Cross-Border Situations
“Matthew is lucky,” stated the Executive Director of International Social Service, Julie Rosicky. “The U.S. Repatriation Program provides assistance to close to 1,000 people each year. There are many other adults struggling with mental illness that run into trouble in foreign countries, and they don’t have a friend or family member to help them, to advocate on their behalf, or to check on them once they are here. Raina is one extraordinary woman, and her story really touched me. It underscores how important it is for our organization to provide these cross-border services. It’s so daunting to figure out how things work in your own country, let alone a foreign country. But knowing that we can help in these situations and that there are Moms like Raina willing to fight for their children makes our work all the more worthwhile.”
Mental Health Awareness (600 x 314)

We encourage you to view tools and resources to help raise awareness, end stigma, and become informed about mental health issues and risk factors by visiting National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Mental Health America.