Local Montana Groups Support Refugee Resettlement

Refugee ResettlementAll over the U.S., citizens are beginning to stand up in support of refugee resettlement for those fleeing violence across the globe.

In Montana, it has been no different. On Mar. 1, rallies supporting refugees swept through the state in response to anti-refugee and anti-Muslim activity in the area.

The ‘Stand Together Against Violence, Fear and Hate’ event was hosted by the Montana Human Rights Network, along with a coalition of local organizations and churches who partnered together to host rallies in Bozeman, Missoula, Helena, Kalispell and Billings to “take a stand against hate, intimidation and violence.”

“So many people were emailing and calling and reaching out and saying we feel like we need to do more,” Rachel Carroll Rivas, co-director of the Montana Human Rights Network said to the Independent Record. “There are times when you can’t be quiet. This is a time to not be silent in our opposition to hate.”

Community groups in Missoula and Helena have been working to develop a refugee resettlement field office in Montana, in the hopes of bringing refugees fleeing from global conflicts to the area. One of these groups, Soft Landing Missoula, has been heavily involved in hosting the rallies.

Mary Poole, founder of the organization, hopes that the rally will be a positive response to the anti-refugee, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment that has swirled throughout the Missoula community.

“We also want to make sure that we are really standing up for the values that Missoula believes in and we believe that those are values of compassion, love and opportunity for others. Having a strong showing of support for those values is why we are rallying tonight,” Poole said while preparing for the statewide rally against hate.

The Missoula County Board of Commissioners sent a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Population in January, formally supporting Soft Landing Missoula’s aim to resettle 100 refugees per year in the area through the International Committee’s Reception and Placement program, which spurred recent anti-refugee rallies across the state.

Anti-refugee activists have hosted their own rallies in recent weeks, with a handful showing up to protest the ‘March Against Hate’ event. Poole believes that many of the negative attitudes toward refugees are due to misinformation and a lack of education that people have on the topic.

“I think it’s a real challenge because it’s really hard right now to sift through what is true,” Poole said. “You know we aren’t claiming there aren’t going to be challenges and difficulties that refugees will face here in America, but educating ourselves to not just give into fear based on opinion is important.”

Missoula had a refugee resettlement office until its closure in 2008. The agency welcomed a large number of Vietnamese Hmong refugees into the area following the Vietnam War.

Global conflicts drove unprecedented numbers of people out of their homes in 2015. The number of forcibly displaced persons worldwide surpassed 60 million people last year, including 20 million refugees fleeing war and persecution, according to the United Nations.

“Never has there been a greater need for tolerance, compassion and solidarity with people who have lost everything,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said in a statement on the UNHCR website. “Forced displacement is now profoundly affecting our times. It touches the lives of millions of our fellow human beings — both those forced to flee and those who provide them with shelter and protection.”

Before admission to the U.S., refugees must undergo extensive interviewing, screening and security clearance processes conducted by coordinators across the nation, as well as overseas, according to the American Immigration Council. If a refugee meets the strict requirements for entering the U.S., they must also pass medical examinations and thorough security checks. The entire process can take an average of 18 to 24 months or more to complete, according to the U.S. Department of State.

The processing times of U.S. refugee resettlement programs “can be quite prolonged, leaving some refugees stranded in dangerous locations or in difficult circumstances,” according to a report by Human Rights First, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, international human rights organization that accepts no government funding.

“All of these kinds of people, who through no fault of their own, have been displaced from their home, have lost their family members and their livelihoods,” Poole said. “We have so much to offer and so much to give to someone who has lost everything. Being a part of that is really important.”

Lauren Lewis

Sources: American Immigration Council, Human Rights First, Independent Record, Interview, Mary Poole, March 1, 2016, KITV, Montana Public Radio, Missoulian, UNHCR, United Nations News Centre