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Refugees Continue to Flock to Worcester

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

 

More than 500 refugees and asylum-seekers are resettled in Worcester each year, according to program organizers. In light of those numbers, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has made $246,365 in grant funds available to the Massachusetts Office of Refugee and Immigrants (MORI) for Worcester County due its documented increase in refugee populations.

"Worcester does have a unique set of characteristics that makes it amenable to refugees," said Lisa Brennan, program manager for Services for New Americans in Worcester, administered by Lutheran Social Services.

"There's just this cultural history of diversity and welcoming new and different people."

A Large Refugee Population

Services for New Americans is the largest of three organizations in Worcester that resettle refugees. Brennan said her group settles 300 to 350 refugees each year.

Moira Lucey, program director at the Refugee Immigration Assistance Center, said the RIAC settled 150 refugees in Worcester last year.

"Massachusetts in general has always been very receptive to the refugee population," Lucey said. "It's a state that welcomes immigrants."

West Springfield and Westfield, Worcester and Boston make up the Commonwealth's three main hubs for refugee settlement.

Lutheran Social Services has been resettling refugees in Worcester for the past 15 years, and Brennan said the individuals they work with make up a good portion of the city's population.

"There's easily 20,000 people in the city of Worcester that in some way have gone through the refugee or asylee process."

While the city's history of immigration, easily manageable public transportation and accommodating school system make New England's second-largest city an attractive destination for new arrivals, often their reason for choosing to settle here is more personal.

"In some cases, people are coming because they have relatives in Worcester," Lucey said. "Family reunion is one of the compelling things."

Many of the city's newly-arrived refugees come from Iraq, Burma, Eritrea, Somalia and Syria.

The Work of Re-Settlement

At Services for New Americans, the resettlement process for refugees includes everything from picking individuals up at the airport when they first arrive in the country to helping them find housing to setting refugees up in apartments with living essentials.

Brennan also works with local community health centers to refer refugees to critical health services and enroll in the public benefit system to help them get on their feet when they first move to Worcester.

"People might be very skilled in their home country, but translating those skills to a local economy here is sometimes very difficult," she said.

The non-profit enrolls refugees in English as a Second Language classes, works with local employers to secure them employment and hosts a legal department to help people apply for naturalization and citizenship.

"We actually have a good partnership with the city and work closely with them and receive some of that money that the city gets," Brennan said.

The MORI funds up for grabs would be available to use to procure additional ESL and job placement services for the region's growing refugee population. The City Council will decide on the application during its meeting on Tuesday night.

 

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