By MICHAEL BRINDLEY Staff Writer
As Manchester city officials attempt to put a halt on new refugees being placed in the city, it’s unknown what the impact would be on Nashua if the moratorium were granted.
Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas submitted a letter to the U.S. Department of State requesting a two-year moratorium on new refugees being resettled in the city.
The state’s largest city has been the primary resettlement location for refugees in New Hampshire. Between 2002 and 2009, Manchester received 1,807 of the state’s 2,966 new refugees, or roughly 60 percent.
By comparison, Nashua, the state’s second-largest city, received only 70 refugees during that same period, much fewer than Concord and Laconia, which received 778 and 260, respectively.
The most recent group of refugees to come to Nashua were roughly a dozen Rohingya people, seeking refuge from the Burmese government. More are expect to be resettled in Nashua in the coming year.
Nashua Mayor Donnalee Lozeau said the city formed a task force in 2008, the Gate City Health and Wellness Immigrant Integration Initiative, to make sure refugees who get placed in the city had the resources they needed to acclimate.
“But we certainly don’t have numbers like Manchester,” Lozeau said.
Gatsas made the request because of concern over whether refugees in the city are getting the services they need. Manchester’s moratorium request is pending.
Michael McGandy, site director for the International Institute of New Hampshire, said it will ultimately be up to the Department of State whether to grant the request. Once a decision is made, McGandy said his organization will make plans for resettlement in other areas.
The International Institute is one of the state’s two agencies hired by the federal government to oversee the resettlement of refugees in New Hampshire; Lutheran Social Services of New England is the other. Lutheran Social Services has been the primary resettlement agency for Nashua.
Amy Marchildon, who oversees refugee resettlement in New Hampshire for Lutheran Social Services, said Nashua is in line to receive another 50 to 70 Rohingya refugees over the next year, but there’s no way to know for sure whether those numbers will pan out.
The same projections were made for Nashua last year, but because of varying circumstances including the Bangladesh government putting a hold on out placements, actual resettlement numbers weren’t nearly that high.
As for why there are so few refugees in Nashua compared to other smaller cities in the state, McGandy said it’s simply a matter of geography. His organization is based in Manchester, so it prefers to place refugees there so they have direct access to the institute’s services. Likewise, Lutheran Social Services is in Concord, so it’s preferred to keep resettlement close by and neighboring cities such as Laconia and Franklin, he said.
“Naturally, we’re going to resettle refugees closer to where we are,” McGandy said.
Refugees are resettled via recommendations from the agencies filed with the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, McGandy said.
Marchildon said it’s easy to forget why refugees are coming to America. Much of her job entails educating various stakeholders in resettlement communities about who the refugees are and what types of support her organization provides to help to them
“These are people forced to flee from their home countries because of war and prosecution,” Marchildon said. “They have no other alternative. It’s not like they chose to be refugees.”
Refugees placed in the city don’t always stay. In 2008, Nashua received 59 refugees from Somalia and Burundi. While the Burundians stayed, Bagley said many of the Somalians left for Manchester or other parts of the country.
Bagley said the city has a coordinator in place who meets with the refugees at the airport and gets them settled.
“Once more families come, they then help each other navigate through the system,” Bagley said.
Refugees are able to find work based on the skills they bring with them, Bagley said. Some of the refugees are able to find employment at local hotels or at large retail stores, such as Walmart.
Bagley knows there are people who are concerned about more refugees coming to the city, given that jobs and resources are scarce. But Bagley tries to help people understand that America was founded by people seeking refuge.
“We’ll remind people that at some point in time someone in your family was an immigrant to this country,” she said.
Refugees are given financial assistance to help at first, including Medicare coverage for up to nine months. There is assistance from the resettlement agency to help them find work and acclimate to the community.
The city’s task force brings representatives from various city departments, including public health and school, to make sure everyone is prepared for when new groups of refugees arrive.
“They’re supposed to be treated as guests when they come to our country,” Bagley said. “Once they come to our community, they are part of our community.”
Michael Brindley can be reached at 594-6426 or firstname.lastname@example.org.