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Lebanon, Hanover consider diversity, workforce as leaders vote to welcome refugees

  • Photographed in Hanover, N.H., on October 7, 2016, Bise Wood Saint Eugene, who is an adminstrative assistant in the Department of Classics at Dartmouth College, has family in Haiti who have been affected by Hurricane Matthew. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/20/2019 9:52:37 PM
Modified: 12/20/2019 9:52:24 PM

LEBANON — Two Upper Valley communities voted this week to welcome new refugees resettling in the Granite State, a move that officials hope will someday attract new residents who could ease the region’s workforce shortage and increase diversity.

The Hanover Selectboard on Tuesday passed a motion signaling the town’s willingness to host refugees through government-approved resettlement programs.

On Wednesday, the Lebanon City Council followed suit with all nine members voting in favor of a resolution allowing for the resettlement of “refugees within the City who have the authority to enter and remain in the United States.”

“This is as American as apple pie,” City Manager Shaun Mulholland said on Friday, adding that many Americans can trace their lineage to refugees and immigrants.

Refugees, he said, are typically fleeing conflict, have legal authority to live in the country and contribute to local economies.

The votes are unlikely to result in new resettlement programs, at least in the near future, according to state and nonprofit officials.

Manchester, Nashua and Concord — the state’s most populous cities — host the vast majority of refugees coming to the Granite State, and resettlement agencies say they have no immediate plans to locate efforts in the Upper Valley.

The region’s shortage of affordable housing, rural setting and shrinking resettlement opportunities all contribute to that decision, they say.

But Hanover wants to contribute, either by supporting those cities or supporting refugees locally, according to Town Manager Julia Griffin.

“At any time, when it seems viable to begin to place refugees beyond those core service areas, we stand ready to step in,” she said Friday.

In the meantime, the town will work from afar alongside church groups to provide aid, Griffin added.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order 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.

At least one Upper Valley business is exploring how it can help New Hampshire’s existing refugee population while also attracting new workers.

Elizabeth Asch, owner of the Lebanon-based River Valley Club, said she’s had difficulty finding new employees over the past two years, a challenge that becomes more pressing as the business looks to expand its child care center.

She recently reached out to Ascentria Care Alliance, a nonprofit that resettles refugees in Concord, and they’re now working to offer jobs to refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Asch said several refugees made the trip to River Valley Club for a tour on Tuesday, and she’s hoping to put together a program that could provide both jobs and English lessons.

The Upper Valley is welcoming and can offer refugees the services and employment they need to thrive, she said.

“I believe our community can offer them more than they’ve been able to get in the southern part of the state,” she said in a phone interview.

Lebanon City Councilor George Sykes agreed, saying refugees have successfully moved to Lebanon. He pointed to Bise Wood Saint Eugene, who came to the United States in 2014 when the humanitarian work of Odevich Haiti, a nongovernmental organization he founded, drew him into conflict with local gangsters.

Saint Eugene and his family resettled in Lebanon with the help of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Hanover and friends, including Sykes, who he met through the Red Cross after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

“They were angels in terms of the warmth and the way they welcomed me,” Saint Eugene said during an interview at his downtown Lebanon home on Friday.

Resettling more refugees in Lebanon is a “wonderful idea.” But, Saint Eugene said, people still need to overcome biases,  particularly those about new immigrants.

“When you listen to the political climate right now, it’s like being an immigrant is a crime,” he said. “Also, there is this idea where people think everyone who migrated to the U.S. are economic immigrants.”

In fact, between 2011 and 2018, most refugees (1,205) resettled in New Hampshire are Bhutanese people who were facing persecution in their home country, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has seen decades of internal strife, contributed the second most refugees to the state, at 892.

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




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