Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of stories featuring the top 10 local news stories of 2018.
After four years of helping local refugees resettle and acclimate to life in southwest Kansas, the Garden City International Rescue Committee closed this year, cutting off hundreds of refugees from a familiar resource.
Since 2014, the Garden City IRC staff and dozens of volunteers have helped refugees reunite with distant family members, obtain citizenship, find housing, employment, language and healthcare resources and broach cultural differences throughout the region, particularly in and around Garden City, Dodge City and Liberal.
Over its four years, the office resettled 250 clients, former Site Manager Amy Longa said in July, just prior to the office closing.
The closure, a significant loss in a region filled with, empowered by and reliant on refugees and immigrants, is The Telegram’s No. 8 news story of 2018.
The office was one of three United States IRC offices to close this year after being projected to resettle less than 100 clients. The new restriction from Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration was a result of restrictive immigration policies President Donald Trump’s administration passed over the past two years.
Trump used executive orders to limit the number and country of origin of refugees moving to the United States, ultimately capping refugee immigration at 45,000 for fiscal year 2018 and banning entry from Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen. Consequently, refugee travel to the United States dropped by 80 percent.
The policies hit hard for the Garden City IRC office, which largely resettled Burmese and Somali refugees. The office resettled 90, 64 and 84 clients over its first three fiscal years, but only 12 by the time it stopped accepting new clients in February.
The Garden City office was a resource not only to refugees resettling in the area, but also to a large population — more than 250 households a year, Longa said — of refugees in their first five years stateside who were still in need of help. The group made up a significant portion of the office’s total clients, Longa said.
Some clients or families were partnered with volunteer mentors, a liaison that helped refugees learn how to drive, set up medical appointments or bridge language barriers.
“Those needs are not going to go away, because they’re still here. They’ll still be here,” Longa said in July.
Leadership at St. Catherine Hospital, the LiveWell Finney County Health Coalition, the Garden City Police Department and the Garden City Cultural Relations Board said the Garden City IRC provided perspective and connection to their institutions, sometimes assisting them in education or support services of their own.
The IRC, Longa said, had long acted as the center of a wheel of local refugee resources, connecting education, health, religious, legislative and legal resources to refugees that needed them.
Fragments of the IRC’s services have carried on through individual and institutional support. Several mentors continued serving their families and staff, and volunteers have sought ways to serve refugees on their own time. Catholic Charities of Southwest Kansas has provided cash and medical assistance and certain resettlement services to refugees in the region.
As the city prepared to move forward without the office earlier this year, Longa challenged the community to continue to embrace refugees, even without the structure the IRC provided.
“The ball is in your court,” Longa told a room of local residents at the IRC’s farewell dinner in July. “You’ve been very gracious. You’ve given me your ears. You’ve opened your doors to me. But if someone doesn’t approach you, will you step up and go knock on the doors?”
Contact Amber Friend at firstname.lastname@example.org.