Friday, May 11, 2018

Refugee in Montana

Stephen Maly, WorldMontaan Board Member                                                               Stephen Maly, WorldMontana Board Member.

There are over 65 million people displaced by war and sectarian violence in Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. Most are living in camps, with little prospect of ever being able to return to their home countries and communities. The refugee situation is worse now than at any time since the second world war.

Our organization supports refugee resettlement efforts in Montana. We have joined a new network of non-profit entities that includes the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Softlanding Missoula, and Gallatin Refugee Connections. To date, WorldMontana has engaged primarily in educational outreach, bringing people together to learn about immigration laws and processes that apply to refugees from war-torn areas and their resettlement in the United States. We have worked closely with Kathe Quittenton, the state refugee coordinator at the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. WorldMontana board president Jeanette Fregulia was instrumental in hosting the first refugee resettlement network “summit” at Carroll College last fall.

Refugee resettlement is in a state of flux. President Trump has established an annual cap of 45,000 refugee entrants, the lowest on record, and only about a third of the total recommended by the previous administration. The repeated issuance of travel bans affecting refugees from a number of majority Muslim countries has caused turmoil, confusion, and delay in the complicated vetting procedures that any individual refugee must undergo before being admitted into the United States. Arrivals into the country have slowed to a trickle. The State Department is requiring refugee resettlement offices with fewer than 100 arrivals per year to close.

The IRC is the only resettlement agency operating in Montana. Their office in Missoula, working alongside Softlanding (a local non-profit), has resettled 135 individuals since the summer of 2016. The largest number have come from Eritrea and Congo, both in Africa; other persons and families have come from Syria and Iraq. With plans to bring in 125 more in fiscal year 2018, which ends next September 30, the IRC will not be forced to shut down. This means WorldMontana members will have opportunity to assist with welcoming refugees to our state in the months ahead.

We can collect and deliver material aid to refugee households in Missoula. Softlanding has issued a list of much-needed items, including diapers, lamps, computers, flat screen TVs, vacuum cleaners, cooking pots, bike helmets, laundry detergent, and cleaning supplies. Earlier this winter, the Gallatin Refugee Connections undertook a Bozeman area drive to assemble and ship Welcome Kits for 5 new refugee families in Missoula that included these and other practical necessities. They also sponsored a screening of the film Salam Neighbor at MSU in February. We could do likewise!

Softlanding is planning to host its second annual World Refugee Day Soccer Tournament on June 16. WorldMontana may want to send a delegation from the Helena area to observe and support that festive occasion. Who knows, maybe we could muster a group of young soccer players to represent our community as well! (Such an endeavor would dovetail with our own ambitions to build an outreach program locally centered on international students and World Cup events.)


Jeffrey Tiberi, WorldMontana® Board Member

Visiting Montana in February means you are crazy about skiing. Of our more than 12 million visitors each year, the vast majority arrive in the warmer months to hike and camp and fish and enjoy our special history and grand scenery. But February of 2018 was different. WorldMontana® hosted an ethnic minorities delegation from Russia. Most lived in the northern portion of what is known as a northern country. They felt right at home with our single digit temperatures, our snow packed and icy roads, and our layers upon layers of winter clothing. I was the van driver. I got stuck in the snow only three times. The delegates pushed me out twice.

Montana is home to 40% of America’s Native Americans. They were the focus of the visit. Specifically, what are Tribes in Montana doing to assure their cultures remain alive and can be passed on to future generations? What ideas can the delegates take home with them? We had the opportunity to visit a number of Tribes to learn about steps they are taking and ways they are paving to protect their cultures. My impression was that the delegates left Montana with a slew of ideas.

As part of the visit, we were fortunate to tour Yellowstone National Park, and extra lucky to get quite close to bison. As we traveled the snow packed and icy roads to the park, with a keen focus on staying on the highway, Sasha and I talked much about these large creatures, including snippets about the cultural significance that Tribes place on buffalo.

The delegates were impressed with the size and beauty of these beasts, but the real importance of our national animal came into focus during each of the individual meetings with the different Tribes. The role of bison and culture are close and intertwined, as we heard at each stop.

Some say that nature is the main player on Earth. I cannot disagree. However, culture, for me, runs at equal speed. The world is getting smaller and smaller. Advancements in commerce and transportation and media push us towards similarities. We are more and more interconnected, and closer and closer to uniformity. Preserving and nurturing the rich varieties of human cultures on Earth will help keep our lives interesting and exciting.

Join us at WorldMontana® to help connect humanity. Annual memberships are more than welcome, and help support our efforts.

Jeffrey Tiberi, WorldMontana® Board Member

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