People & Places

Providers prep for refugees amid post-election uncertainties

RUTLAND — A network of service providers is moving ahead with preparations for the arrival of Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Rutland amidst uncertainty about what a Trump presidency will mean for resettlement efforts.

The Rutland Refugee and Immigrant Service Providers Network will hold its first meeting Nov. 30 at the Rutland Free Library. The network is based on a model used in Chittenden County, which has had its own provider network for at least 15 years, according to state refugee coordinator Denise Lamoureux.

Lamoureux said the Chittenden County group meets about every six weeks. Members go over the nuts and bolts of resettlement, such as who’s arriving and when, and address specific questions members have. For example, Vermont Legal Aid will be attending the next Chittenden County meeting to discuss questions regarding refugees and taxes.

The network is especially important in a small state like Vermont, which has limited staff and resources to devote to refugee resettlement, Lamoureux said.

“For me it’s a tool to keep in touch with as many providers as possible,” she said, noting she is the lone staff member in the state refugee office. However, Lamoureux works closely with the Refugee Health Program led by Martha Friedman, the Agency of Human Services, and affinity groups like the Association of Africans Living in Vermont.

Rutland was approved as a resettlement site for up to 100 Syrian and Iraqi refugees in September. The first families are expected to arrive in December or January.

Lamoureux will also work closely with the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program. The program provides case management services and will soon open an office in Rutland with three full-time staff members. In addition the state refugee office recently received a three-year grant totaling $450,000 in partnership with Reach Up and the refugee resettlement program to provide case management services, English language training and employment assistance.

Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program

Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program Director Amila Merdzanovic, left, and Stacie Blake, director of government and community relations at the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, speak at a meeting in Rutland. File photo by Elizabeth Hewitt/VTDigger

The Rutland network will include a cross section of service providers, including health care professionals, educators, community action groups like BROC and elected officials. The Board of Aldermen, which has pushed for a higher-profile role in the refugee resettlement process, has been included. The meetings are open to the public, but Lamoureux stressed they are directed at service providers.

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Dick Courcelle, CEO of Rutland Mental Health Services, said his organization has already been having informal staff meetings to prepare for the arrival of refugees from Syria. Rebecca Day, a clinical social worker on staff, has had experience working with refugees in Florida and has helped gather resources for the mental health community.

There are certain basic forms that need to be translated into Arabic, Courcelle said. In addition, staff will require some training in how to address the needs of a population fleeing war and violence. “As a designated mental health agency for Rutland County we stand in a position to assist anyone in need of service that resides in Rutland County regardless of origin,” Courcelle said.

He said the nature of the work would be consistent with what the organization has done for years. It works frequently with children and families who’ve experienced significant trauma and provides services to 16 schools in the county.

“It’s doing what we do anyway,” he said.

Rutland Mayor Chris Louras said the impact of war on refugees would be a key issue for service providers in general. “It’s a unique challenge that the service providers in the area have not had to deal with in a broad way,” he said. “Nothing in scope and scale of a war zone.”

Chris Louras

Rutland Mayor Chris Louras. File photo by Elizabeth Hewitt/VTDigger

Louras said his own role would be to make sure various parties are communicating with one another and sharing information.

Volunteers with the group Rutland Welcomes will also play a role in assisting refugees.

“From what I saw there is quite a network of support with volunteers,” Lamoureux said. “It’s reassuring to know there will be such a large network of volunteers waiting to help them.”

In the wake of Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election, there is some uncertainty as to the future of refugee resettlement.

One of the core tenets of his campaign was a ban on Muslim immigration or immigrants coming from parts of the world viewed as a national security threat. It will be within the purview of the new administration to slow or halt the arrival of refugees in the United States.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, an immigration hard-liner, has said he is participating on Trump’s immigration policy transition team. And Jeff Sessions, who served as an informal adviser during Trump’s campaign and has railed against President Obama’s “reckless and extreme” refugee resettlement policy, is being floated as a possible secretary of defense.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford said in an email, “It is not yet clear if the new administration will act to stop any refugee inflows into the U.S. after it takes office in the new year.”

A State Department spokesperson referred all questions on the matter to the president-elect’s team.

The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants released a statement welcoming the president-elect to his new home in Washington “just as we have welcomed newcomers across the country for over 100 years.”

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Committee President Lavinia Limon said, “Throughout our history refugees and immigrants have been welcomed to America by presidents from both parties in war and in peace, and the current global refugee crisis is no time to shrink from this leadership.”

Stacie Blake, director of government and community relations at USCRI, said the program has always enjoyed bipartisan support.

“America has always led on this issue,” she said. “That’s who we are, what we’ve always done, and we would certainly expect that president-elect Trump would want to continue to be a leader on an issue of this importance.”

Adam Federman

About Adam

Adam Federman covers Rutland County for VTDigger. He is a former contributing editor of Earth Island Journal and the recipient of a Polk Grant for Investigative Reporting. He has written for The Guardian, The Nation, Columbia Journalism Review and other publications. His biography of British food writer Patience Gray is forthcoming from Chelsea Green in 2017.

Email: [email protected]

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