In the News / February 2018

Rutland’s Resettlement Story

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Rutland is a small Vermont town sitting just on the edge of the Appalachian Trail with a dwindling economy and an aging, majority white population. Last year, Rutland drew national attention for its plan to accept and resettle 25 to 50 refugee families. This plan, though, never came to fruition. Instead, only 3 families were resettled in Vermont. However, this stands as a testament to the conflicting opinions that still surround this issue. Many of Rutland’s residents, including then-Mayor Christopher Louras, wanted the refugees in Rutland. They felt it a moral imperative and a way to revitalize and diversify their fading city. It was a way to catch up with the times.

However, many others strongly opposed this sentiment, rallying against those in favor and accusing the mayor of secrecy. In some part, they feared the cost of harboring refugees in their small community. How could the economically struggling city support more people? But it was not just a question of economics; some residents were more fearful of the thought of Muslims- an unknown-  joining their community.

Rutland’s final refugee family was settled in June. Shortly thereafter, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a partial ban. However, the debate in Rutland and our country, wages on.

“Both sides felt misunderstood and misrepresented,” says the Washington Post, “and a year after the ban was implemented, there is a lingering sadness and bitterness here, even in the absence of debate. The refugees so far have presented zero threats to anyone’s safety, and there have been no reports of refugees facing harassment. They have tried to quietly blend in, and to a large extent they have succeeded.”

However, with the refugee cap at well below the desired 75,000, and numbers of entrants even lower, the State Department has instructed agencies to consolidate operations and “zero out” sites like Rutland.

USCRI Vermont Director, Amila Merdzanovic, told local allies last week that there would be no more refugees resettled in Rutland this fiscal year.

Those already resettled in town have remained out of the spotlight. The refugees don’t want to talk to reporters or address town hall meetings, Merdzanovic said. They don’t want to speak for a war-ravaged Syria, she said. They don’t want to be the symbols of the national debate or the small town struggle.

For now, what these families want is peace and the chance to start over.

Read the Washington Post article on the topic here.

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