BENNINGTON — Approximately 260 Afghan refugees have resettled around Vermont in the past year, and the state is open to receiving hundreds more from various countries through October 2023.
Around 150 Afghan adults and children have relocated to Chittenden County, Montpelier and Rutland since August of last year, when U.S. troops completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan, according to the Vermont Agency of Human Services’ State Refugee Office. They came via the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, a resettlement agency contracted by the federal government.
Another estimated 110 Afghans have moved to Windham and Bennington counties, mainly in the towns of Brattleboro and Bennington.
The vast majority of those placed in southern Vermont were assisted by the resettlement agency Ethiopian Community Development Council, but nine people came through the Sponsor Circles program, which allows private citizens to sponsor Afghan refugees, said State Refugee Office Director Tracy Dolan.
These relocations align with the plans that the two resettlement agencies discussed with VTDigger in December.
It’s unclear how many of the refugees who’ve entered Vermont have left, since the state does not track their domestic migration.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Afghans now constitute one of the largest refugee populations in the world. The vast majority of Afghan refugees — 2.2 million — are living in Pakistan and Iran.
The UNHCR noted that some of the Afghans who’ve relocated served as translators or interpreters during the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. Due to their employment with the U.S. government, many faced serious threats to their safety.
During the next federal fiscal year, between October 2022 and September 2023, Dolan said the state can accept up to 500 more refugees from various countries, including Ukraine.
She said the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants plans to resettle 350 people, while the Ethiopian Community Development Council is planning on 150. The two agencies couldn’t immediately be reached for confirmation on Tuesday.
“The state is open for refugees and certainly eager,” Dolan said. “We want to do our part in helping people who are struggling globally, especially coming from dangerous places and extreme conflict. And we think that’s the right thing to do.”
Vermonters also benefit from welcoming refugees, she said, since refugees boost the state’s workforce with the experiences and skills they bring. She said the newcomers’ cultural contributions also enrich local communities.
Dolan said the projection of resettling as many as 500 refugees next fiscal year is based on various factors. They include the capacity of local school districts, the benefits that the state government can provide as well as the availability of employment and housing.
There are certainly plenty of available jobs, but affordable housing is especially tight in Vermont.
“Housing really is a limiting factor,” Dolan said of the refugee resettlement. “So far, we have been able to find housing for almost everyone.”
She said the state recognizes that some Vermonters are also struggling economically, and that officials are working to help everyone.
Refugees receive public assistance depending on whether their incomes qualify. These programs include Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Vermont Emergency Rental Assistance Program.
The actual number of refugees who are resettled in Vermont also depends on the rate at which refugees enter the U.S., Dolan said.