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July 30. 2014 7:38PM

Manchester-based refugee group says it's too early to expand to Seacoast

DOVER — Although a Manchester-based refugee group has ties to businesses in the Seacoast, the organization decided it is too early to determine whether it could expand in the tri-city area.

City Manager Michael Joyal said the Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success (ORIS) — which is based in Manchester — recently sent an email to let city officials know that the organization had reconsidered a plan to resettle refugees in the area after determining there wasn’t “widespread community support.”

“We were not reaching out, we were contacted by them,” Joyal said.

As a result, Joyal said the city invited representatives from ORIS to meet with officials from Dover, Rochester and Somersworth during an Aug. 13 meeting.

“We wanted to make sure the public was informed first and foremost,” Joyal said.

Soon afterwards, Joyal said ORIS sent another email stating it would have to cancel the meeting, but representatives could meet with officials in the future.

“Without more information or knowing more about the program, the city is taking no position,” Joyal said.

Officials from Rochester and Somersworth could not be reached for comment on the matter.

A partial explanation for the cancellation was included in a release by the city, which is posted on www.dover.nh.gov.

“I would like to assure you that ORIS has no intention of moving forward with refugee resettlement in the tri-city area unless we have significant support from the communities,” wrote Emma Tobin, associate director for the Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success. “Further, our initial meeting with you was meant to be the beginning of a very slow process; refugee resettlement in the tri-city area was never meant to happen overnight, or in a vacuum.”

Mukhtar Idhow, executive director at ORIS, said the meeting was cancelled after “misinformation” surfaced about their efforts. While he did not specify what misinformation arose, he added it may be possible to reschedule once it is corrected.

“If the conversation is appropriate, we can move down the road,” Idhow said. “We can decide in the future.”

Idhow said the “ethic-based agency” — which was previously the Somali Bantu Community Association (SBCA) — has been helping legal refugees from conflict areas become more self-sufficient since 2011.

The SBCA was a non-profit organization which was founded in 2005 by a group of Somali Bantu refugees living in the United States. It was funded by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, according to their website: http://refugeesuccess.org/.

“Refugees come from all over in countries in conflict,” Idhow said, adding ORIS has assisted former to residents of Somalia, Congo, Bhutan and Burundi who fled their homes to escape war-torn lands and hostile aggression.

Idhow said ORIS helps refugees become integrated into new communities by helping them find jobs or begin businesses, start paying taxes and “become part of society.”

“They came here with a right to work and can be citizens after five years,” Idhow said.

Idhow said these refugees — who have come to the United States legally — are not involved or connected to the ongoing waves of waves of illegal immigrants — both children and adults — who are crossing the southern U.S. border.

“We don’t do resettlement services in Manchester – we just provide services,” Idhow said, adding ORIS hopes to expand into another area in the future.

As ORIS has an ongoing relationships with businesses in Exeter and Stratham, Idhow said the group has been successful in the past “due to the support of the community.”

Idhow said members of ORIS wanted to have “a start-up conversation to gauge the public’s views.”

ORIS is one of several agencies that help identify communities suited for refugee resettlement under the federal Reception and Placement program, which provides assistance with living expenses during a refugee’s first few months in the community, according to the city’s release.

jquinn@newstote.com


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