Small US Town Prepares to Welcome Syrian Refugees

20 December, 2016

Some refugee aid organizations in the United States are working to help people who fled Syria and will soon come to America.

The groups are working hard because they believe that president-elect Donald Trump may stop Syrian refugees from entering the United States when he takes office.

During the presidential campaign, then-candidate Trump criticized American government policies that let Syrian refugees enter the United States.

The small city of Rutland, in the northeastern state of Vermont, will be one of the first American cities to receive Syrian refugees in 2017.

The small city of Rutland, in the northeastern state of Vermont, will be one of the first American cities to receive Syrian refugees in 2017.
The small city of Rutland, in the northeastern state of Vermont, will be one of the first American cities to receive Syrian refugees in 2017.

About 16,000 people live in Rutland. VOA recently visited a refugee aid group in the city.

"So these just arrived..."

In a room at a church, Marsha Cassel is opening a box full of homemade hats. The people who made and sent the hats also sent a card.

"We have knitted these hats with love and hope they help your heads and hearts feel warm..."

Marsha's organization is called Rutland Welcomes. Volunteers have donated household goods, furniture and clothing to help the Syrian families who are to arrive early next year.

"We have some really active volunteers -- about 200 volunteers -- who are willing to step up to provide transportation, to set up houses, to collect household goods and furniture, to do tutoring..."

Italian, Greek, and Polish immigrants built Rutland. More than one hundred years ago, there were many factories in the city. But today, its economy is poor and businesses cannot find the workers they need.

Mayor Christopher Louras showed VOA a very old photograph of factory workers in the city.

"Look around them. There is a lot of short, undersized guys with dark skin working in that factory."

In memory of the immigrants who built Rutland, Louras created a plan to bring 100 Syrian refugees to the city each year for the next several years.

"We saw refugee resettlement as an opportunity not only to do the right thing, the compassionate humanitarian thing, but also from a very self-serving perspective as a community, provide population growth to fill our jobs."

But not everyone agrees with the mayor's plan. City Treasurer Wendy Wilton says the city does not have enough money to support 100 refugees a year.

"When I add refugee resettlement and its impact on education and community development and planning, it looked to me like it would be a 35 percent tax increase for Rutland city residents. That's a lot of money."

Mayor Louras says Wilton's estimate is not correct.

"The numbers were frankly fabricated, not just on the municipal budget side, but also on the school side as well. And it is unfortunate that she chose to use such erroneous numbers."

Some city legislators are also unhappy with the mayor's plan. Sharon Davis says the mayor never talked about his plan with city officials or the community.

"I think that if the mayor had taken the opportunity to respect and support the folks he represents, we wouldn't be in this discussion at this time."

Although not everyone supports the plan, the first refugees are expected to arrive in Rutland in early January.

I'm Jill Robbins.

VOA Correspondent Jeff Swicord reported this story from Rutland, Vermont. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted her report for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.

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Words in This Story

knit – v. to make (a piece of clothing) from yarn or thread by using long needles or a special machine

step up – phrasal verb. to say openly or publicly that you are the person who can do something

tutor – v. to teach a single student; to teach someone as a tutor

compassionate – adj. feeling or showing concern for someone who is sick, hurt, poor, etc.; having or showing compassion

perspective – n. a way of thinking about and understanding something (such as a particular issue or life in general)

fabricate – v. to create or make up (something, such as a story) in order to trick people

municipal – adj. of or relating to the government of a city or town