New England welcomes nearly 650 Syrian refugees in past year
BOSTON >> New England has taken in nearly 650 Syrian refugees from the U.S. goal of 10,000 set by Democratic President Barack Obama, with the vast majority finding homes in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Massachusetts has taken in 145 refugees despite initial hesitation expressed by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker. Connecticut has provided homes for the largest group in New England, 334 adults and children fleeing their country's civil war, according to a website maintained by the U.S. Department of State.
After Connecticut and Massachusetts, Rhode Island has taken in the next highest number of refugees in New England, at 116, followed by Maine, 39, and New Hampshire, 14. Vermont has not taken in any.
The clock on the 10,000-refugee goal started ticking on Oct. 1, 2015. The White House at the end of August said the goal had been met.
The refugees have clustered around a handful of cities. In Massachusetts more than a third of the refugees, 59, have settled in the Springfield/West Springfield area, followed by Worcester, 41, and Lowell, 26. Only two have settled in Boston, where advocates have said soaring housing costs are a significant hurdle.
Of the 334 refugees relocated in Connecticut, nearly 80 percent, 264, found places to live in New Haven. Another 35 were resettled in Hartford.
Rhode Island saw a similar clustering, with 80 percent of the state's 116 refugees relocating to Providence. All of Maine's 39 refugees were settled in Portland. New Hampshire's 14 refugees were split between Manchester, 9, and Concord, 5.
The political reception has been mixed.
Baker, questioned three days after Islamic State group militants killed 130 people in coordinated assaults around Paris on Nov. 13, 2015, said he wanted to know more about the federal government's vetting process before welcoming Syrian refugees.
Baker said he's encouraged by the priority given to refugees with settled families in the United States, women and children and intact families. But he said there's always room for improvement.
"I did find the comments about the way they prioritize and the way they vet to be encouraging," Baker said last week. "But I do think the bar on this for the feds ought to be set pretty high when you're talking about countries where we either have no relationship or a hostile relationship."
Connecticut Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has welcomed Syrian refugees, among them a couple and their 5-year-old son blocked by Indiana Republican Gov. Mike Pence, the GOP vice presidential nominee, from entering his state last November.
In Rhode Island, Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo pointed to the strict vetting process but also said the state should open its arms to the refugees.
"These are not terrorists, these are families," she told WPRO-AM on Monday. "These are moms and dads desperate to escape a war-torn country. Rhode Island's a place of tolerance and love, and we ought to welcome people in."
Resettlement agencies like the Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island provide the refugees furniture and other basic needs upon arrival. Many of the refugees take English classes and receive cultural orientation lessons to learn about street safety and how to navigate the city by bus.
Dorcas International's refugee resettlement director, Baha Sadr, said many are skilled and "fit into the Western work culture."
"A lot of them owned businesses," he said. "They had confectionary stores, worked in construction, a wide range of things. Some were in medical school or in the middle of practicing medicine."
Most of the refugees who arrived in Rhode Island this year had been living in camps for about three years after fleeing Syria in 2012, Sadr said.
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