On Wednesday, January 18th, the first of 25 Syrian families arrived in Rutland to begin a new life.
Amila Merdzanovic, Director of the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program, remembered her arrival in the U.S. as a refugee from Bosnia years ago. “That moment of arrival when you plant your feet on the U.S. soil is one of the most memorable events in a refugee life and in this journey,” she says. “I still remember my arrival 21 years ago. I was exhausted, two days of travel, having left my family and home and all of that. But that night, that image is so vivid in my mind. I think it will stay with me for the rest of my life. Finally you see the light. You’re here, there’s hope, there’s future for you.”
The past several months have been filled with controversy in Rutland, as residents debated whether or not refugees should resettle to their city. However, many members of Rutland First, the group originally designed to stop resettlement in the city, have changed their approach now that refugees have begun to arrive.
Dr. Timothy Cook, a Rutland physician and one of the founders of Rutland First, says there are no plans to protest the refugees’ arrival. Instead, he says he plans to volunteer medical services to them if needed. “We made the determination that we’re trying to block this for fiscal reasons. But we also decided at the same time, the core group that I’m familiar with, that if these people come here we’re going to do everything we can to help them succeed,” he says. “Because that’s what Vermonters do.”
Volunteers have been working to collect donated items for incoming refugee families and are excited to finally meet those whose arrival has been so anticipated. As refugee families continue to arrive, VRRP will be working to help refugees become self-sufficient and gainfully employed as quickly as possible. Many Syrians coming to the U.S. are skilled workers who are eager to contribute to the local economy.
Photo Credit © Nina Keck, Vermont’s NPR News Source. “West Rutland resident Erin Robbason, a volunteer with Rutland Welcomes, sorted through a bag of donated clothing last week to make sure it was clean and ready for Syrian refugee families who might need it.”