Posted on September 21, 2005

Refugee Numbers On the Rise

Steve Brandt, a, Sept. 20

The international refugee pipeline to Minnesota is back in business.

Minnesota zoomed back to its pre-9/11 level of refugee arrivals in 2004 — and that’s even without a well-publicized surge of Hmong. Resumption of East African refugee migration played a big role.

In fact, Minnesota ranked first nationally in the number of foreign refugee arrivals in 2004 on a population-adjusted basis, according to federal figures. One refugee arrived last year for every 875 Minnesotans. That’s a rate more than four times the national rate, and it’s attributable to the state’s long-established concentration of settlement agencies.

The state ranked third in raw numbers of refugees arriving in 2004, trailing only two coastal states, Florida and California. More than 7,300 refugees or people granted political asylum landed in Minnesota last year, according to state Health Department figures (which are based on calendar years and so differ somewhat from federal fiscal-year totals). That’s direct arrivals, not counting people who settled in another state before moving here.

It’s a big jump from a low of 1,035 in 2002, when refugees were getting special post-9/11 scrutiny. That has meant big adjustments for the government and nonprofit agencies that help them settle here.

“We’re like a balloon,” said John Borden, executive director of International Institute of Minnesota, which settles the largest share of the state’s refugees.

“We expand, we contract to fit the needs of the various programs we’re in. That is not fun,” Borden said.