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Before Refugees Come To Rutland, What Has To Happen?

A red brick building.
Nina Keck
VPR file
Rutland will welcome 100 refugees, mostly from Syria, beginning in mid-December or early January, and the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program is already making preparations.

The city of Rutland received word on Wednesday that it would be the newest site for refugee resettlement in Vermont. The city is expected to welcome 100 refugees, mostly from Syria, beginning in mid-December or early January.

When news broke in April that Rutland might be a resettlement site, some residents and city officials raised concerns that the city’s budget could handle that many new residents. Critics also worried about security and the strength of the screening process for refugees.

Rutland Mayor Christopher was also criticized for not being transparent in his discussions with state, and federal officials about the resettlement plan which he spearheaded.

VPR spoke with Amila Merdzanovic, director of the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program, about the next steps for Rutland now that the city has been selected as a resettlement site.

VPR: What has to happen between now and when the first refugees arrive?

Merdzanovic: "We'll start looking at an office space and warehouse space and then we will be reconnecting with the employers,  the business community and the landlords. We will be recruiting and hiring staff and training them so they're ready to receive new families when [refugees] start arriving in December or January."

Will the refugees  be given some funding to help get them on their feet once they arrive?

"Yes, every new arrival receives a $925 from the federal government. In our community, it’s known as the ‘welcome money.’ That money is used to rent an apartment, put down the deposit, pay initial utilities and purchase some food."

Some of these people will have children who will need to be placed in in schools. Are those kind of things going to be looked at as well?

"Yes, and that is a job of the case manager. We will be hiring a case manager whose job really starts before [the] family arrives. They’ll start looking for apartments, collecting basic needs and they will help families with children get the kids registered for school and provide other support."

You mentioned that you're opening another office in Rutland. How much of a staff do you expect to have there?

"We are planning to hire three staff. In addition to a case manager that I just mentioned, we will be hiring an employment counselor who will be working closely with all employable adults in the family. We will be hiring a Reach Up case manager to provide a support case management support to families with children under 18."

Some residents and city officials in Rutland have voiced concerns about the cost of bringing in some 100 new residents and they've talked about security risks of resettlement as well. How do you respond to those concerns?

"Refugees, out of all the visitors to the United States, are subjected to the most rigorous security screenings. It takes between 24 to 36 months to process a single individual. They're subjected to fingerprinting, interviewing, [and] medical screening."

Do you see this as a pivotal moment in Rutland’s history and maybe in the history of Vermont as well?

"Absolutely, this is a big moment for our history, the history of refugee resettlement in Vermont and certainly Rutland’s history. We should also remember that Rutland has a long history of immigration. Even [Rutland] Mayor Louras talks about his grandfather coming from Greece in in the early 1900s. This is not the first time Rutland will be opening its doors."

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