Kathryn Marchocki, Union Leader (Manchester, NH), Dec. 23
MANCHESTER — A surge in refugees coming into Manchester last summer so overwhelmed the city’s capacity that a three-month moratorium was placed on most new arrivals, government officials said in recent interviews.
The moratorium went into effect Sept. 28 and will continue through the end of the year. Meanwhile, the state is conducting a review of how future resettlement should occur in New Hampshire, officials said.
The moratorium was largely triggered by the strain an influx of mostly African refugees placed on the public health system. Lead poisoning was detected in 34 children — four of whom were hospitalized, city and state health officials said.
“When we bring in kids from other parts of the world who are malnourished, when they are exposed to any lead, they soak it up like a sponge,” city Health Director Frederick Rusczek said.
“Manchester just got overwhelmed,” particularly its public service sector, said Barbara C. Seebart, the state refugee coordinator.
“The idea is to create some breathing space,” she added.
The 96 refugees who came in June alone was a record high for the city, the health department report said. The record year for refugee resettlement in Manchester was fiscal 2000, when 425 arrived.
Impact on schools
The wave of refugee resettlement also had ramifications for the city school department which, just before school started in the fall, discovered 60 more students enrolled in its English Language Learners program than it had expected, said David F. Scannell, coordinator of school and community relations. Most of the new students came from Sudan and Somalia, he said.
“The district in no way looks at its refugee population as a burden. Their presence is a gift to the school district and a gift to the city,” Scannell said.
But he said school officials were concerned the services it provided its current refugees “were likely to be compromised if refugees continued to come in the numbers we had seen this summer and without proper advance notice.”