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Manchester Seeks Refugee Moratorium

Manchester officials are calling for a moratorium on refugee resettlement. Before anyone else arrives, city leaders say current refugees need more help finding work, learning English and getting educated then they currently receive. And now with state and local social service cutbacks, city leaders worry about Manchester’s diminishing capacity to help the newcomers. NHPR’s Dan Gorenstein reports.

Pat Long knows that some people will see him as a xenophobic Alderman from Manchester.

But the Democrat- who represents neighborhoods downtown- says he’s actually backing the move because he’s worried his constituents aren’t living decently in the Queen City.

He remembers the bedroom of one little 9 year old boy. 

“There was a mural on the wall of blood from bed bugs being squashed. It’s lines, there were 200, 500 lines of bed bugs, when he squish it, he would drag it, and there were lines of blood on the guy’s wall. It’s stuck in my head forever.”

To some degree, city officials like Long blame the local resettlement agency, the International Institute of New Hampshire, for failing the refugees.

The hope is that a moratorium would give the city time to improve conditions for the people who already live there.

But the International Institute’s Manchester site director Michael McGandy defends his program.

McGandy points to English language classes like this at the Institute’s office.

Sfx: ESL class

About half a dozen Bhutanese refugees are trying out phrases they need when they meet with doctors or nurses.

In addition, the International Institute helps people find work, enroll their children in school, and locate apartments.

Then there’s financial help.

Between the first 30-90 days, the Institute spends $1100 per individual to cover rent, furniture and food.

For the first 8 months in country, people are eligible for what’s called ‘refugee cash,’ a program similar to welfare.

That’s worth $738 dollars a month for a family of four.

McGandy says ‘sure,’ he’d love to have more money for refugees, particularly those who struggle.

But overall, he believes the Institute is doing a good job.

“If you could see the children here, working with my staff and the dedicated teachers of the Manchester school district and the kids’ parents on homework problems, it gives me goose bumps. It’s a visceral and clear vision that here are families that have hope for their future. When before they got here, they probably didn’t have any.”

Maggie Fogarty, a refugee advocate with the American Friends Service Committee, says the modest assistance is simply not enough.

She says she if conditions for current and future refugees are to change, the International Institute must acknowledge its own failures.

“Refugees are being placed into poverty. There are refugees who have been here 5, 6,7 years and can not earn their own income to live independently, which is what they want to do. There are refugees who are passing through the school system with their language needs unattended to. We are not doing a good enough job.”

Since 2008, 60% of all refugees coming to New Hampshire end up locating in Manchester.

That’s about 650 people.

Over that time period, the vast majority of people resettled in Manchester are the relatives of refugees who already live there.

Lately many of them are Bhutanese refugees like Suraj Budathoki.

He says any call for a moratorium is very unpopular in the Bhutanese community.

He uses himself as an example.

“My parents are still in Nepal. And they are probably coming here in September or October. So do you think I like moratorium? No.”

The city has no authority to actually implement the moratorium.

That power rests with the U.S. State Department.

While over half a dozen relocation communities have called for some kind of slowdown over the last decade, it’s only happened twice.

Lavinia Limon heads up the U.S. Committee of Refugees and Immigrants- the agency that oversees the contract to resettle people in Manchester.

Limon says she could decide not to place people in Manchester next year.

But she warns that could end up hurting more than helping.

“We can put those people someplace else. And then they will come there on their own to be with their family. Just like you or I would. So we think it’s better to do it initially and have the funds with their resettlement, rather than put them in Indiana and have them show up two weeks later.”

Limon says what’s clear to her is that city officials, and the resettlement agencies have the same goal- help people get a foothold in America.

She says at this point, people need to sit down and figure out how to better serve the refugees.

That is exactly what Manchester’s elected officials want.

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