by Max Dodson, Community News Service
This year, Vermont will accept 100 Afghan refugees. However, resettlement comes with hurdles.
This resettlement is different from past programs, such as when the state welcomed 100 Syrian Refugees in 2017. Senator Kesha Ram Hinsdale, who represents Winooski and the rest of Chittenden County, spoke about the differences with this current Afghan Resettlement program.
Ram Hinsdale and Rep. Marybeth Redmond, D-Essex, hosted a virtual town hall late last month that detailed logistics about welcoming refugees.
“Most of the refugees are going to be coming through the asylum program, there’s a little bit of a different pathway federally,” Ram Hinsdale said. “Refugees were eligible for something like 3 to 4 thousand dollars a month, but asylees are only eligible for a one time payment for about $1,250 dollars.”
This could pose an issue, especially when concerning housing. Many communities, including Winooski and Burlington, are facing a housing shortage. There is a particular lack of homes with multiple bedrooms, suitable for families. Adding a new pool of people, and families looking for housing could increase the already high demand for housing. The lack of federal funding to support these families could also complicate this, Ram Hinsdale said.
When discussing the housing shortage in many of the communities in the state, Ram Hinsdale had a simple solution.
“Many people are willing to open their own homes and add financial sponsorship to support individual families. They have to show the federal government more money to support them before they arrive in the asylum program,” Ram Hinsdale said. “It is a different path, but one that many people are willing to go down because they want to get the care quickly.”
Hinsdale also said that while people have been welcoming and willing to open up their own homes, this is not a permanent solution, and does not solve many of the issues of the housing shortage in Winooski.
“That doesn’t necessarily resolve the housing shortage issue, but does immediately help families arriving in Chittenden County in a short term setting,” Ram Hinsdale said.
Many refugees may also settle in Rutland, according to Ram Hinsdale and statements from state officials and the Rutland mayor.
Apart from the housing issue, Hinsdale is optimistic for the Afghans joining Vermont communities. While there were some issues in Rutland in the past Syrian Refugee resettlement, the community has largely been willing to accept a significant portion of Afghan refugees.
Furthermore, Brattleboro fought to start a small asylum program, with many asylees located there.
Ram Hinsdale said she thinks this is largely due to the recent media attention displaying the horrors many Afghans face under Taliban rule, especially educated women and those with previous American ties.
“Many people sprang into action, largely spurred by the very gruesome stories they’ve heard, particularly about the way women and people pose a threat because of their academic profession,” said Ram Hinsdale.
The resettlement of Afghan refugees does pose its challenges, but could also provide solutions to some issues Vermont is facing now, such as the labor shortage. Employers in the state have had extreme difficulty finding employees, as complications from the Covid-19 pandemic put a significant dent in Vermont’s workforce. The addition of a significant portion of refugees could help solve a portion of this.
The town hall that occurred last week to discuss the resettlement included an employer on the panel. However, there are also some hurdles for employers to provide work for Afghans in the right way.
“You have to learn a whole new cultural language to understand people’s assumptions about what it looks like to be in the workplace. All of this needs to be treated intentionally, so we are trying to connect employers who have learned past lessons from hiring immigrants and refugees,” said Ram Hinsdale.