Posted on November 28, 2011

After Taking in Refugees for Years, a New Hampshire City Asks for a Pause

Abby Goodnough, New York Times, November 25, 2011

This city has long been a resettlement site for refugees, sent here by the State Department for a chance at a better life. More than 60 languages are spoken in the school system, with Somalis, Sudanese, Iraqis and other recent arrivals mixing with children whose ancestors came from Quebec to work in the mighty textile mills along the Merrimack River.

But this year, after decades of taking in refugees, Manchester said, “Enough.”

In a highly unusual move, Mayor Ted Gatsas and the city’s Board of Aldermen asked the State Department in July to halt resettlements here for now. A tide of more than 2,100 refugees over the last decade–most recently, Bhutanese families coming from camps in Nepal–has been more than the city of 109,500 can assure jobs and decent housing for, Mr. Gatsas said.

“We’re just saying, ‘Let us catch our breath,’ ” he said last week in an interview at City Hall. “This is about giving people the opportunity for a better life, and until I can get that person working and gainfully employed and getting to learn the language, I can’t do that.”


Two other cities have restrictions in place, according to the State Department: Detroit, where refugees can be resettled only if they have friends or family there already, and Fort Wayne, Ind., where only refugees with close relatives there can go. But while others have raised concerns about resettlement during the economic downturn, none have asked to stop it altogether, said Larry Bartlett, director of the State Department’s Office of Refugee Admissions.


Mr. Bartlett said that after hearing the city’s concerns, his office had decided to send some 200 refugees to Manchester this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, instead of the 300 proposed by the International Institute. While the State Department often tinkers with the numbers proposed by resettlement agencies, he said, “this was probably a more significant reduction than we would normally make.”


{snip} He [Mr. Gatsas] has made a point of describing the situation to the Republican presidential candidates who have filed through his office in recent months in hopes of drawing more attention to it.

“If we don’t get the outcome we’re looking for, trust me, I might have a few hundred of them up here to have that discussion,” he said. “I think people will tell you I’m pretty tenacious on an issue. I’m not going to stop.”