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Communities have little say about the number of refugees they receive

Last modified: 3/29/2015 12:23:03 AM
The federal resettlement program began 35 years ago, and today includes some 190 sites across the country.

In New Hampshire, four cities – Nashua, Manchester, Laconia and Concord – take in refugees, but the numbers are not evenly distributed. Nationally, nearly 70,000 refugees immigrated to the U.S. in the last fiscal year; 373 of those came to New Hampshire, and 189 of those came to Concord.

The city of Concord has minimal say, and minimal official responsibilities, over refugee resettlement.

State and resettlement officials will typically share the information they receive about resettlement projections with local officials.

Concord, in turn, has an opportunity to provide some input on those projections. But as decisions are being made about how many new refugees will resettle here, there’s rarely a discussion – with Concord officials, at least – about the current status of the local economy and what kind of resources are available, according to City Manager Tom Aspell.

City employees – who work in public assistance programs, public safety or otherwise – provide help to individual refugees as needed.

“We just do what we normally do for anybody else that comes in,” said Jacqueline Whatmough, the city’s human services director.

The national refugee resettlement program runs as a partnership between the federal government and nine private resettlement agencies. Ascentria Care Alliance, which oversees resettlement in Concord, is a subsidiary of three of those private agencies.

Each year, the State Department announces resettlement projections for the coming fiscal year. States can then comment on those, raising concerns or requesting changes.

Barbara Seebart, New Hampshire’s refugee coordinator, said she regularly meets with school officials, health care workers, social service providers, state partners, volunteers, ESL teachers and local resettlement agencies to gather feedback.

New Hampshire receives a few hundred refugees each year. Since October, for instance, the state welcomed more than 160 new refugees from 16 different countries, according to federal data. Many come in pairs or groups.

Most of those newcomers come from Rwanda — 41 total in the last five months. They are joined by 23 refugees from Nepal, 20 from Iraq, 16 from Namibia and 13 from Uganda, as well as others from Ethiopia, Malaysia, South Africa and elsewhere.

The number of refugees arriving annually in New Hampshire has waned in recent years, down from a peak of 559 in 2009 to 345 in 2014.

Those numbers represent a small fraction of the total number of refugees resettled nationally. During the last fiscal year, for example, 7,214 refugees arrived in Texas, 6,108 in California, 4,082 in New York, 4,006 in Michigan and 1,941 in Massachusetts. Connecticut and Maine resettled slightly more than New Hampshire; Vermont and Rhode Island resettled slightly fewer.

Not everyone stays put. Between 2005 and 2012, 648 resettled people moved out of New Hampshire, and 55 arrived from out of state, according to Seebart.

New Hampshire’s largest incoming populations are from Bhutan, the Congo and Iraq. While the Bhutanese are the biggest, their rate of growth is declining.

Syrian refugees could begin arriving in the state within the next couple of years. Some have already arrived in the states. The UNHCR hopes to resettle 130,000 Syrian refugees globally by 2016.

Amy Marchildon, director of Services for New Americans, the local Ascentria subsidiary, said New Hampshire is considered a “third tier site,” meaning it could be a few years before Syrians start arriving in any substantial numbers.

Overall, the influx of new refugees has not been a difficult burden for Concord. Rather, city officials said the new cultures have been a benefit to the community.

“When folks first started being resettled here, people would notice people of different skin colors and different habits of dress downtown, maybe for the first year or two,” Aspell said. “People just expect it now. People know it’s a refugee resettlement community, and from what I can see, people welcome it.”

(Casey McDermott can be reached at 369-3306 or cmcdermott@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @caseymcdermott. Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319 or jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

See related stories:

Refugees can face ‘culture shock’ after resettlement

Refugees in N.H.: Where they’re from

Communities have little say about the amount of refugees they receive

Ray Duckler: What a long, strange trip it’s been


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