By Samuel Crabtree
In wake of the recent surge of refugees fleeing tumultuous countries and entering resettlement programs, many communities are starting to host those escaping the violence and civil unrest of home, and Reno has just become one of those communities.
There are four refugee families currently being resettled in Reno from Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. These countries have become inhospitable due to war and political strife. Each of the families was selected and brought to the city within the last two months by the Northern Nevada International Center, a nonprofit organization that helps with hosting international students and visitors as well as helps with public diplomacy at the University of Nevada, Reno, and in the community.
The Syrian refugee crisis is the result of those fleeing from the Islamic State and its constant bombings and violence. This sudden increase and threat have brought the refugee program under much scrutiny over the last few years, with fear of terrorism and questions of international safety becoming a major political conversation. This, when combined with the rising number of displaced people, an estimated 75 million worldwide, has put the program under an unprecedented amount of stress. Many cities and towns that were not part of the resettlement program before have opened their doors to help the displaced. The NNIC submitted an application to the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants in November and just received approval a few weeks ago.
The process is not a simple one — each refugee must go through multiple years of testing for terrorist motivations and contagious disease. One of Reno’s refugee families has been in transit for 16 years. Those who are approved have their files sent out to programs like the NNIC across the country, and the programs pick the families they feel their community can best serve.
When they reach Reno, refugees are sponsored by various charitable organizations, such as churches and businesses, that help furnish homes and get the families used to their new surroundings. Two families have already started this process, and Dr. Carina Black, executive director of the NNIC and professor of political science at UNR, is positive about their progress thus far.
“They’re still in the very beginning of acculturating,” Black said. “But the kids are in school and the parents are in ESL classes. They’re getting all of their things in order so they can start a normal life.”
There has been some backlash to the city’s welcome of refugees. At a town hall meeting last month, some Reno citizens questioned whether funds could be put to better use in a more local way, specifically the homeless population. Black disagrees with this idea, citing the small amount of funds that goes into the resettlement process and disagreeing with the idea that helping one takes away from the other.
“There are 65 million people in the world who need help, and we’re helping just about a hundred thousand. It’s a drop in the bucket,” Black said. “But it’s a sign of goodwill on behalf of the United States, a sign of leadership in terms of global engagement. We aim to be a leader in politics, economics, military power, but by being a leader in positive global engagement this will go a long way to do good for the world.”
Over the next year much of Reno will be watching to see how these families adjust to their new homes, and if all goes well these four will not be the last. For more information, or if you’d like to donate time or goods to the NNIC, please go to www.unr.edu/nnic/resettlement.
Samuel Crabtree can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @TheSagebrush