Refugee resettlement office to reopen in Missoula

Refugee supporters praised the International Rescue Committee’s announcement Friday that it would reopen a resettlement office in Missoula. (Photo by Martin Kidston)


The International Rescue Committee on Friday said it would reopen a refugee resettlement office in Missoula, a decision made in part by the broad coalition of support formed around the issue over the past few months.

The IRC, founded in 1933 to help those impacted by conflict and disaster, made the announcement on Friday afternoon. The organization anticipates that roughly 100 people could be placed in Missoula over the first year.

“Missoulians have shown the country – and the world – what it means to welcome the tired and poor, and to support them as they integrate and regain control of their lives,” IRC’s Bob Johnson said in a prepared statement. “We are looking forward to once again working with this community to help refugees integrate, become self-sufficient and add to the cultural and economic fabric of Montana.”

The announcement came as welcome news to advocates who have spent the past year working with IRC and the U.S. State Department to reopen a local resettlement office.

Mary Poole, founder of Soft Landing Missoula, said the community would likely receive 100 refugees over the first year. IRC said those refugees selected for resettlement undergo nearly two years of vetting by U.S federal and international agencies.

“The promise of America is one of freedom, opportunity and second chances,” Poole said Friday. “Missoula successfully settled refugees for decades, and we’re glad to see that once again our community will be able to join many other cities nationwide to participate in providing a safe-haven for war-torn families.”

Missoula was home to a refugee resettlement office from 1970 to 2008. During those 29 years, it helped Hmong and eastern European refugees make a new start.

The U.S has committed to welcoming 85,000 global refugees this fiscal year, with Syrian refugees capped at 10,000. Poole has said it was unlikely that Syrian refugees would be placed in Missoula, though advocates remain receptive to refugees of all nationalities.

“It’s important that we work together to improve the situations of refugees around the world, including relocating displaced persons in our community,” said Pastor John Daniels of First United Methodist Church. “Our church joins with many others in supporting the efforts of the International Rescue Committee and Soft Landing Missoula.”

Of the 60 million people worldwide who are currently displaced by conflict, roughly 19.5 million are registered as refugees with the United Nations. Of those, roughly1 percent are seeking placement in a foreign country.

The State Department defines a refugee as someone who has fled his or her home country due to a founded fear of persecution based on religion, race, nationality or political thought.

“As we face the largest global refugee crisis since WWII, it’s imperative that we work together to help mitigate suffering abroad,” said Missoula Mayor John Engen. “Missoulians take our humanitarian obligations seriously. We are proud to help in this endeavor and support the opening of a refugee resettlement office in Missoula.”