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Montana, US Seeing Fewer Refugee Resettlements

Ghalia Almasri, right, and Mary Poole of Soft Landing Missoula led an event in 2017 to introduce locals to the cuisines of local refugees.
Olga Kreimer
Montana Public Radio
Ghalia Almasri, right, and Mary Poole of Soft Landing Missoula led an event last year to introduce locals to the cuisines of local refugees.

The number of refugees being resettled in the U.S. dropped by a third last year. Montana saw a smaller percentage decline, and the number being resettled here remains low.

An International Rescue Committee report released last week shows a historically low 30,000 refugees coming to the U.S. at a time when resettlement needs are on the rise.

The Missoula IRC is one of the organization’s smallest offices in the nation and the only refugee resettlement office in the state. Its size is what’s keeping it from seeing significant decrease, says Resettlement Director Jen Barile.

”If you’re, you know, an office that’s resettling 200, you could afford, even though it’s unfortunate for the community, you know, you could still keep your doors open and be cut by 50%. We wouldn’t be able to keep our doors open if we were resettling less than that 100.”

That’s because the U.S. State Department announced last year that they would close offices resettling fewer than 100 refugees annually. The Missoula office tends to hover around a hundred, meaning it’s in danger of being left with no resettlement office. The IRC is one of several agencies that contracts with the federal government to provide transitional assistance to refugees.

Last week’s report did not include data from Montana because the local office is too new to have much, says Barile. It opened in 2016. But she added that Montana is on track to see a decrease. It took 115 refugees in fiscal year 2018, and has taken 66 this fiscal year, which ends in September.

Other states reported much bigger drops. California was the biggest at 72%, followed by Florida with 71% and Arizona, with 64% fewer refugees being resettled there.

Barile says that despite the small numbers, families in the area can feel the difference. “The personal impact that we’re seeing in Missoula is that folks, you know, still have family members whether it’s children or spouses, that are not able to be reunited with them.”

Barile says she can’t speak to the future of the office, but expects the numbers to stay the same for a while.

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