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Missoula Resettlement Group Prepping For Nation's Refugee Increase

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 in 2017 to introduce locals to the cuisines of local refugees.

An international group helping refugees resettle in Missoula plans to expand its operations. The announcement came after news that President Joe Biden is significantly increasing the number of refugees that the U.S. allows into the country.

Beth Baker is the program manager for Soft Landing Missoula, an organization that works with the International Rescue Committee Office to help refugees settle. She was in a church lobby pairing customers with their orders from a fundraiser, one where refugee chefs baked cookies from their countries of origin.

Soft Landing Executive Director Mary Poole was also handing out the red boxes of cookies. President Biden's increase in the target number for refugees settled in the U.S. - he's looking to settle 125,000 in 2022 fiscal year - is great news for refugees already in the Missoula area, according to Poole, including the cookie bakers. 

"Families that are already here are going to be able to be reunited with their families and their loved ones that have been stuck in transit," she explained.

The number of refugees allowed in the U.S was significantly more limited during the administration of former President Donald Trump. The refugee admissions ceiling was set at 110,000 in 2016 but that number decreased the next four years.

Before leaving office, Trump set the limit to 15,000 for the 2021 fiscal year - the lowest ceiling for refugees since the passage of the Refugee Act in 1980. 

"It was a very systematic, intentional dismantling of the refugee resettlement system by that administration," Poole said.

Biden recently increased it to 55,000 this year. Kit Stebbins is the acting resettlement manager of the International Rescue Committee’s Missoula office. With the goals of the new administration, she said her office is ramping up its work.

"We're just doing the best we can to prepare," Stebbins said.

She said Missoula’s IRC office currently has four full-time staff members, plus some part-time help and a few workers from programs like AmeriCorps. It is also looking to add five new full-time staff members to start. The group has resettled more than 370 people in Montana since 2016.

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