Lebanon City Council to mull refugee proposal

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/16/2019 10:11:01 PM
Modified: 12/16/2019 10:20:51 PM

LEBANON — Lebanon could soon join a growing list of Granite State communities welcoming resettling refugees, but officials say the move would be largely symbolic.

Barriers include the city’s rural setting, distance from resettlement organizations, a shortage of affordable housing and lack of an existing refugee population, according to some who help resettle people in New Hampshire.

Instead, they predict the state’s most populous cities — Manchester, Nashua and Concord — will continue to resettle the bulk of newcomers.

A proposed resolution up for consideration in Lebanon would allow resettlement of “refugees within the City who have the authority to enter and remain in the United States.”

The effort, which will be discussed at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, is in response to an executive order issued by President Donald Trump in September that requires both states and municipalities to approve refugee resettlement.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu announced last month he had given statewide consent but left it to municipalities to decide whether to opt in.

“These are folks who have come from some very difficult areas” and are vetted by the State Department, said Lebanon Mayor Tim McNamara. “I definitely would be happy for us to be part of the program.”

But Lebanon is too far from the two nonprofits approved by the government to resettle refugees, said Barbara Seebart, New Hampshire’s state refugee coordinator. The Upper Valley might also lack features key to successfully integrating people, she added.

Affordable housing, a strong public transportation system and job availability are all important in selecting resettlement communities, Seebart said on Monday.

“Because of that, refugee resettlement has always been a largely urban endeavor,” she said.

There also could be too few incoming immigrants to expand settlement outside of established areas, according to Jeff Thielman, of the Manchester-based International Institute of New England, one of the two resettlement organizations in New Hampshire. (The other is Ascentria Care Alliance, based in Concord.)

“With refugee resettlement in the United States as low as it is, we couldn’t really explore the possibility of placing refugees in Lebanon,” he said. “There are just not enough refugees coming into the country to even consider a new place like Lebanon.”

The number of refugees resettled in the Granite State has dropped dramatically since President Donald Trump took office in 2017.

In 2016, 518 refugees were settled in New Hampshire. That number decreased to 362 refugees in 2017 followed by 162 refugees last year, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Neighboring Vermont saw a similar drop.

Between 2008 and 2016 the Green Mountain State welcomed, on average, 336 refugees each year, according to Seven Days. But Vermont resettled 236 refugees in 2017, and in 2019, just 115, the paper reported in October.

Those figures largely follow national trends. Under Trump’s hard-line immigration policies, refugee resettlement in the U.S. has dropped to historic lows.

While President Obama set the 2017 refugee ceiling at 110,000, only about 53,700 were resettled as the result of a Trump executive order freezing admissions, according to the Pew Research Center. Trump set the 2018 ceiling at 45,000 refugees followed by 30,000 refugees this year. The 2020 cap is 18,000 refugees.

Still, Thielman said he’s “overjoyed when any community raises their hand and says ‘let’s welcome refugees.’ ” Thielman added nonprofits like his might consider expanding to new communities, if the federal government expanded its refugee program.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727 - 3223.

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