Refugee center surpasses new-arrival quota for year

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In a familiar mix of mostly Burmese, Bhutanese, Sudanese and Iraqi refugees, the Mohawk Valley Refugee Center has surpassed its quota of new arrivals for the year.

As of Wednesday, the center has welcomed 461 refugees, slightly more than the 450 it hoped to hit between Oct. 1, 2012, and now. That compared to 389 refugees the previous year.

Some individuals and families still are trickling in until Sept. 30 — the last day to reach the quota.

Going over capacity might sound like a strain, but it’s nothing the center didn’t expect, said Executive Director Shelly Callahan. In fact, it prepares for it.

“It’s not really unusual,” she said. “In fact, we came in under last year. We’re pretty happy with how it’s played out this year.”

The ethnic pattern for the incoming refugees isn’t new, officials said. Burmese refugees make up the brunt of the 450 this year, with sizable Bhutanese, Iraqi and Sudanese arrivals, too.

“Actually, this is very, very, very similar in the last few years,” said Resettlement Director Dzevad Racic. “This is the pattern for four or five years.”

The center determines its annual quota in several steps, Callahan said. After the start of the federal fiscal year, agencies declare how many refugees will come into the country between Oct. 1 and Sept. 30. Specific resettlement centers, such as the local refugee center, give their respective states the number of refugees they believe they can handle. A compromise is made based on the resources of the center and the expected number of new arrivals.

That final number has a bit of flexibility – the refugee center is able to bring in 10 percent more than its quota. If the state believes the center will have to accommodate more than that, it would need to be arranged ahead of time because the center receives money from state and federal agencies for each refugee, and arrangements have to be made with city agencies, such as municipal housing.

Many times, pushing past the 10 percent comes from an influx of refugees with Utica-specific ties, such as family already established in the area.

In the next couple of years, however, there might be slight changes, Racic said. For example, he estimates there could be fewer Bhutanese and more people from the Middle East will come.

The possibly could include Syrians.

With the conflict in Syria dominating news broadcasts, Callahan said there always is a chance that the refugees pouring out of the country could find themselves in the U.S., much like how Bosnians came two decades ago. That option, however, is a “last resort.”

“Their numbers are so great, so large, that I don’t think bordering countries can absorb those numbers on their own,” she said.

The UN Refugee Agency estimates there are more than 2 million Syrian “persons of concern.”

Utica could be a city that Syrian refugees will be funneled, Callahan said, because there is a small population already here.

“It’s hard not to want to do something, hearing that there are 1 million children in this situation,” Callahan said. “It’s just a very sad situation.”

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