Four families of Congolese have arrived in Missoula in the past month, but resettlement here will soon take on a more international flavor.
Refugees are a global crisis, Molly Short Carr told a gathering in Missoula this week, and future families or individuals could hail from many places on the map.
Carr, executive director of the Missoula International Rescue Committee (IRC) office, said some of the millions who have fled civil war in Syria will land in Missoula after going through an international screening process and orientation.
“There will maybe be Iraqi refugees who will come. There may be refugees who come from Central African Republic, Chad, Sudan, Burma, Bhutan, Latin America,” she told about 30 people Tuesday night at a meeting of the Missoula County Democratic Central Committee in City Council chambers.
The third and fourth Congolese families arrived in Missoula this week from camps in East Africa, even as Secretary of State John Kerry told Congress the outgoing Obama administration plans to accept 110,000 refugees into the U.S. in the next fiscal year. That’s up from 85,000 in fiscal year 2016 and from 70,000 in each of the three previous years.
Carr said ticketing problems have held up the arrival of a fifth family that was due to reach Missoula later this week.
“I don’t know the specifics yet of who’ll be coming when,” Carr told the Missoulian on Thursday. “I do know we won’t always have Congolese. The refugees that we resettle here will reflect the overall proportion of refugees who arrive in the United States.”
Of the 85,000 refugees the Obama administration proposed for the current fiscal year, which ends this month, 34,000 were to come from the Near East and South Asia and another 25,000 from Africa.
According to a U.S. State Department report, the Near East and South Asia remain host to more than 12 million refugees, primarily Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis, Iranians, Bhutanese, Palestinians and Sri Lankans. The U.S. expedited efforts and reached President Barack Obama's goal of accepting 10,000 Syrian refugees earlier this month.
While a target for Syrian resettlements in fiscal year 2017 hasn’t been announced, Obama’s refugee plan is expected to welcome even more.
That’s been a topic of debate among presidential candidates and in Montana, where Missoula opened the lone resettlement office in the state just two months ago.
Carr said the abstract proposal for Missoula now calls for 150 refugees in the next year. That’s up from “approximately 100 per year” that Missoula County Commissioners said they would welcome in a January letter to Anne Richard, assistant secretary of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugee and Migration.
The bureau cited the support of the commissioners, Mayor John Engen and most of the Missoula City Council in agreeing to reopen an IRC resettlement office in Missoula. Soft Landing Missoula, which formed a year ago in response to the refugee crisis in Syria, has marshaled local support and continues to provide resources and manpower as the Congolese arrive.
Mary Poole of Soft Landing told Tuesday’s gathering that Missoula is the first in the IRC’s decades-old history to request a resettlement office be opened in its city. Third-country resettlement is "absolutely the least desirable" option for refugees, she said, after repatriation in their home country and integration into the country where they've fled. Those two solutions apply to more than 99 percent of the world's displaced population.
Poole pointed to a stark statistic: The world now counts more than 65 million refugees who’ve been forced to flee their home countries. Based on the latest estimated world population of nearly 7.5 billion, that equates to one in every 113 people on the face of the Earth.
The Congolese families who have come to Missoula from refugee camps in Tanzania, Rwanda or Uganda are here in part because Missoula has a large population of Peace Corps volunteers who’ve returned from Africa and speak Swahili.
Carr pointed out that Arabic is taught in the Missoula County Public Schools district and at the University of Montana, so there’s a ready-made pool of instructors and students of the language common to most countries in the war-torn Middle East, including Syria and Iraq.