People & Places

Refugee resettlement office set to open in Rutland

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, appear at a meeting in Rutland. File photo by Elizabeth Hewitt/VTDigger
RUTLAND — The Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program’s Rutland office is expected to open and be fully staffed within a couple of weeks.

According to Stacie Blake, director of government and community relations with the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, the office will have three full-time employees. Primary guidance will come from the Colchester office and will be based on the organization’s 35 years of experience working with refugees in Vermont.

“The program expects to welcome the first refugee families to Rutland in January,” Blake said in a news release. “We look forward to this opportunity to welcome those fleeing war and persecution who are unable to return to what was once home. We know when people’s lives have been disrupted, their ability to rebound is impressive, and we will work closely with the community to help refugees reclaim basic human rights and dignity and rebuild their lives.”

Mayor Chris Louras said the timing is as expected. “They have been consistent that the first families will arrive in January, and the community looks forward to welcoming our new neighbors,” he said.

In September, after months of debate, it was announced that Rutland had been selected as a resettlement site for up to 100 Syrian and Iraqi refugees. Though many questions have been raised about the fate of the resettlement program in the wake of Donald Trump’s election as president, the first families are still set to arrive later this month. During his campaign Trump said he would ban Syrian refugees from entering the United States.

“Sites across the country are continuing to welcome new arrivals as their travel from overseas is booked,” Blake said in an email. “We have no information regarding changes to the resettlement program.”

The Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program, an affiliate of the federal committee on refugees, has been working closely with local volunteers and the group Rutland Welcomes to help coordinate services. Hunter Berryhill, a spokesperson for Rutland Welcomes, said attendance at recent volunteer orientations has exceeded expectations.

Volunteers are required to fill out an application and undergo a background check. Berryhill said the process was designed to make sure people were volunteering for the right reasons and to determine which skills are needed as refugees begin to arrive.

“VRRP has definitely been a little overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people in the community applying and attending orientations,” said Berryhill. Typically the Vermont refugee program expects to have about 20 to 25 people show up at training events, but more than 150 attended the first two orientations in November, Berryhill said.

Though Rutland Welcomes has been following VRRP’s lead, the group continues to organize donation drives and has filled three storage spaces with everything from nonperishable food and winter clothing to dressers and bed frames.

“We’re moving forward,” said Berryhill, who acknowledged uncertainty surrounding the program’s future.

“We have families coming, and there’s nothing that can stop that,” he said. “But who knows what’s going to happen.”

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  • Don Dixon

    How is the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program funded? Does affiliation with the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants mean it’s taxpayer supported?

    • Pat McGarry

      VRRP is part of USCRI, which is a 501 (c) (3) tax exempt organization.

      • Mark Trigo

        With all due respect, that is not an answer to Don’s question. He asked about funding, not whether they pay taxes.

        • Pat McGarry

          With all due respect, it makes it easy to google the sources of funding from there. One source of funding is government grants (essentially because of services provided).

          However, one might argue that any not for profit which does not pay taxes (including local property taxes) is “taxpayer funded”, even if it does not receive government grants.

          • Mark Trigo

            Thank you for answering the question. That was what Don was looking for.

    • This program should be funded by taxpayers. It was our tax dollars that funded the foolish and reckless war that led to this refugee crisis. It is the United States’ responsibility to care for these displaced peoples.

      The same people who complain about the refugees are likely to 1) have come from an immigrant family at one point in their lives and 2) to have supported the Iraq War in the first place. Then again, the folks opposed to the refugees are often also equally opposed to critical thought.

  • Robbie Harold

    I note that the new office has been receiving donations of food, clothing, etc. Is there a need for additional winter clothing for new arrivals?

  • The United States annually agrees to resettle a specific number of refugees. The number varies as the need exists and the federal administration sets. The government provides grants to organizations for specific services as a part of this resettlement program. Refugee resettlement has been a part of government for many years. Each of the agencies that receive these grants relies on contributions of dollars, clothing, household items, and more in order to complete their mission. One of the largest contributions is the many volunteers who befriend and help the New Americans as they resettle in our communities. From personal experience, I can attest to the many rewards gained from such volunteering.

    Typically each state or large city has one agency identified for the purpose of refugee resettlement. USCRI is the identified agency in Vermont and several other places around the country. Some of the agencies are religious based others are not.