It’s taken months, but another Syrian refugee family has arrived in Rutland. The newest family, a married couple with three children, arrived last Thursday, said Amila Merdzanovic, Executive Director of the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program.
The city had been expecting 20 to 25 families from Syria and Iraq. But after the first two families arrived in January, the resettlement process was thrown into chaos by President Trump’s orders to stop it.
On Jan. 27, Trump signed an executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries including Syria, and suspending refugee resettlement for four months.
The executive order also cut the number of refugees admitted to the United States during the 2017 fiscal year to 50,000 — a number less than half the 110,000 that former president Barack Obama had promised.
Federal courts stepped in and blocked the president’s efforts to halt resettlement from those predominantly Muslim countries. The courts also blocked the four month refugee moratorium which has meant some refugees who had already been vetted and had prepared to come to the United States could do so, albeit later than planned.
The most recent family to arrive in Rutland had fled the war in Syria and was living in Jordan.
Merdzanovic would not provide any more details saying she wanted to protect the family’s privacy. But she said as the family was moving in a neighbor came over to introduce herself, offer toys for the kids and words of welcome.
"That's what it's all about," said Merdzanovic, "that human connection."
While more refugees are expected in Rutland before the end of September, she says she’s received no travel information yet for them.
Chittenden resident Jessica Cromie said one of her best friends is Syrian and she’s been following the resettlement efforts in Rutland closely.
“I guess I just felt really encouraged that our community is welcoming a few more families and that things are still moving forward, so I feel excited to meet the families and be a support any way I can,” Cromie said.
Rutland Mayor David Allaire said he was notified prior to the family’s arrival and communication with the resettlement agency has been good.
Last year, Allaire and other city officials voiced concerns that Rutland would not be able to support large numbers of refugees and many, including Allaire, were angry by what they called secret negotiations between Merdzanovic and former Mayor Christopher Louras.
Allaire has pledged to ensure transparency as the resettlement program continues.
Members of Rutland Welcomes, a grassroots organization that formed to help with resettlement, said they worked quickly last week to set up an apartment for the new family.
Volunteer Marsha Cassel said President Trump’s efforts to block Syrian refugees has been demoralizing for the group.
“Yeah, it’s taken some of the wind out of us,” Cassel admitted.
But she said it feels good to be back in action and Rutland Welcomes will begin posting things the new families need on their website and Facebook page.
Cassel said despite what the first two families had to endure to get to Vermont, she’s been amazed by what they’ve accomplished in just a few months.
“The first two families are thriving as far as I can tell. I work with three of the kids and both fathers are employed,” Cassel added. “One family has actually moved out of their starter apartment to something that’s more suitable for a family, so it’s working.”
And Cassel said those first two families are eager to help the newcomers.