Refugee Resettlement Resumes in N.H., But Future of Program Uncertain

Feb 16, 2017

  Refugee resettlement has resumed in New Hampshire after a federal judge halted President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily banning refugees.

A federal appeals court last week refused to reinstate the president’s order, which also bans immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

Jeffrey Thielman is executive director of the International Institute of New England, which helps to resettle refugees in New Hampshire.

He joined NHPR’s Morning Edition.

Where do your organization’s refugee resettlement efforts stand, with the president’s executive order still blocked?

We are still resettling refugees, but these are mostly people who were booked for travel before the executive order was put into place on Jan. 27. So there were a bunch of people who were planning on coming to New Hampshire and our offices in Massachusetts that were stopped by the executive order, then it resumed. The one thing that’s important to remember about the executive order is that the number of refugees the president is going to admit in this year has been reduced from 110,000 nationwide to 50,000. And that will impact us because we’ve already resettled in New Hampshire 120 refugees or so, which is about half of our goal.

So you’re anticipating fewer than you originally thought, but how many refugees do you have right now that could be resettled here soon?

We resettled a refugee (in Manchester) last week from Bhutan, and we have a family of eight that is scheduled to come into Manchester later this month. This is a family where one of the members of the family worked with the United States military in Afghanistan. The family has what’s called a special immigrant visa. These are refugees who have done work for the United States government in one capacity or another. They’ve been in danger and the United States government made a commitment to protect them and help them resettle to the United States if they supported our troops and military in the Middle East.

(Editor's note: Ascentria, another organization that resettles refugees in the state, reports five refugees from Burma will soon be resettled in Nashua, and three cases from the Democratic Republic of Congo - seven people in total - will be joining family in Concord.)

Obviously, there’s a lot of uncertainty with where President Trump’s order is heading. It’s possible he could craft a new order. How is your organization approaching this moving forward?

Our staff is ready to do the work we've been doing for a long time now. It's an uncertain time from a planning perspective. We do have to plan for a reduction in the number of refugees.

  We’re ready to resettle refugees in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Our staff is ready to do the work we’ve been doing for a long time now. It’s an uncertain time from a planning perspective. We do have to plan for a reduction in the number of refugees. That will impact our budget. We haven’t sorted through exactly what reductions we’re going to make. We’re basically preparing for more refugees and to do the work we’ve been doing and we’re trying to get more certainty from the U.S. State Department. The State Department allocated refugees around the country and we should hear in the next month or so what the reductions will mean for our services here in Manchester and Nashua.

Once a family is resettled, what does your organization do?

Our teams receive people at the airport and place them in housing. We find an apartment for them. We help them to get medical benefits, enroll them in a medical plan. We enroll their children in public schools. We have a program that teaches newly-arrived refugees English, a cultural orientation program. And then a big part of our focus is finding people the best employment we can possibly find them that pays a good wage. We want people to be self-sufficient within their first three to eight months within the United States. And refugees assimilate, find work, and become successful rather quickly, so we just focus on that part of our work.

How is all of this uncertainty affecting the refugee community? Is there a lot of confusion or misinformation about what’s happening?

There is. It’s made people anxious. We resettled a family the other day, I met them at the airport, and one of the first questions was whether they had to go back. They’re not going to go back. Once they’re here and they’re admitted to the United States and are on their way in this country. But what they are concerned about is their loved ones back home and whether they can come and join them here. There’s a lot of sadness about that, uncertainty about that. We’ve told people the United States is a nation of laws and there’s a process by which presidential executive orders and other actions are reviewed by the courts. This process will sort itself out. By and large, the American people are people who value fairness and want to see refugees treated fairly and want to see the law executed fairly. We explain that to our refugee clients, and I think that helps a little bit, but they’re nervous about their friends and family back home or back in the camps which they’ve left.

Your organization is hosting an informational event Thursday in Manchester. What can you tell us about that?

It’s at the Millyard Museum. It starts at 5:30 p.m. It’s a chance to learn more about us and learn more about our work. It will be a chance for people in Manchester and surrounding communities to meet some of our refugee clients and meet some of our staff and ask questions about what we do. We hope people come and get more educated about our work.

Have you seen an increase in interest in volunteers since the president’s executive order?

Yes. We’ve seen an increase in volunteers and an increase in donations and we are grateful. I think one of the upsides of all of this has been more support for what we do. 

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