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April 02. 2013 11:48PM

Aldermen seek answers on Manchester refugee numbers

MANCHESTER - Aldermen are seeking answers from the International Institute of New England concerning its plans to settle 50 additional refugees in Nashua, rather than reroute some of the newcomers destined for Manchester.

At their meeting Tuesday, the aldermen voted to send a letter requesting a meeting with representatives of both the institute and the U.S. State Department, which oversees refugee resettlement.

Ward 3 Alderman Pat Long, who chairs the city's refugee task force, said based on a conversation he and Mayor Ted Gatsas had with the organization, he expected the 50 refugees approved for Nashua would reduce the number set to arrive in Manchester.

"In that conversation, we asked them if they could settle in other communities within 50 miles," Long said. "Then we found out a couple weeks ago that instead of 200, they're getting 250. That's not the understanding we had."

Gatsas said, "We were waiting an awfully long time for the International Institute (to get back to us), because they told us they were going to settle refugees in Nashua."

Gatsas speculated that the organization had not been in communication over the past couple months because the sequestration debate in Washington affected the federal agencies with which it worked.

The group has been approved to settle 200 refugees in Manchester through October. It was approved for the same number last year, but slightly fewer than 120 came.

So far this year, 86 refugees have arrived, 53 adults and 33 children. Gatsas suggested that he would propose the group limit the number of refugees arriving over the next four months, with the expectation that some of the 200 refugees would be routed to Nashua.

Many of the refugees are from Bhutan, in central Asia, and Iraq.

Gatsas has had a frosty relationship with the institute, which is headquartered in Boston, charging that the group has been incommunicative and unresponsive to concerns that it was disproportionately settling refugees in Manchester and disregarding the struggles they are facing in the city.

Over the past decade, the organization has settled several thousand refugees in Manchester, far more than it has in any other community in the state.

Officials in Nashua also appear to have been caught off guard by the news, reported in the New Hampshire Union Leader on Monday, that the State Department had given the green light for 50 refugees to be settled there.

"No one has any answers," Nashua Mayor Donnalee Lozeau told the paper. "The concerns I raised were real ones, and I feel like they weren't addressed at all."

Coincidently, the aldermen on Tuesday also voted to approve a below-market rate lease for the Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success in the city's newly renovated Odd Fellows Hall building, at 434 Lake Ave.

Alderman at-large Joe Kelly Levasseur questioned why the city was giving the group the deal.

"We're basically saying we don't want more (refugees), but now we're saying we're going to rent out space to this group," he said. "It's a mixed message."

Long said he's worked with the Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success for several years and that it was very different from the International Institute.

"The institute brings the refugees here and operates with them for a six-month period. This organization picks up after that to expedite English learning and job training. This organization does a service to Manchester," he said.

Gatsas also spoke in support of the group's work.

"These are refugees that are already here. We're trying to get them in space that is more affordable, to help them get jobs. MCRC is downstairs," he said, referring to the Manchester Community Resource Center.

The Odd Fellows renovation project was completed a couple weeks ago. The four-story building will be rented to several social service organizations, and will be known as the Lake Avenue Community Resource Center.

The Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success will be renting space in the building for $1,100 a month.

tsiefer@unionleader.com


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