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Agencies enthusiastically prepare for increased refugee resettlement in Columbia

This story originally appeared in the Columbia Daily Tribune. Read the full story online: Columbia Daily Tribune Website.

After four years of decline, refugee resettlement in Columbia may be on the upswing again soon with the start of the Biden administration.

Catholic Charities Refugee and Immigration Services in fiscal year 2020 resettled 34 people in mid-Missouri, said Sam Moog, director of refugee resettlement. The fiscal year was from October 2019 through September 2020.

The agency had projected resettling 75, but that was hit by a double-whammy of the coronavirus pandemic and increased vetting procedures for refugees implemented by the Trump  administration, Moog said.

“We’re really hopeful this coming year that both of those factors are going to change,” Moog said.

The Trump administration capped refugee admissions at 15,000 nationwide for 2021.

“President-elect Biden has said he would increase that to as high as 125,000 across the country, which is very hopeful,” Moog said.

The nationality breakdown of the resettled refugees is 17 from the Democratic Republic of Congo, 10 from Eritrea, four from Ukraine and three from Ethiopia.

“The vast majority of them are in Columbia,” Moog said. “There’s also a small refugee community in Sedalia.”

There’s a reason refugees like Columbia, she said.

“Columbia and mid-Missouri is such a welcoming community,” Moog said. “We’re incredibly grateful.”

She isn’t prepared to make projections about refugee arrivals for 2021 yet, but thinks it will be more than 34, she said.

The 34 refugees resettled in 2020 compares with 220 resettled in 2016. During that period, refugees were arriving each week.

“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Moog said of the projected increase.

Catholic Charities is the only agency in Missouri contracted with the government to resettle people. It provides its services regardless of the faith or culture of the refugees. It has resettled more than 4,000 since 1975.

The agency provides extensive case management for up to five years, including helping to enroll children in school, health services and mentors to help meet career goals, Moog said.

It offers legal services with attorneys accredited by the U.S. Department of Justice to assist refugees in achieving citizenship or a permanent resident green card.

Refugees are fleeing from persecution in their home countries based on warfare or other social or political reasons.

Catholic Charities provides the same services to a few other categories of immigrants, Moog said. Those include special immigrant visa holders who supported the American military in Iraq and Afghanistan and face danger because of that service. It also assists immigrants who have been granted asylum.

City of Refuge is a not-for-profit agency that provides other services for refugees. It served 550 individuals during the past year, said director Garrett Pearson. It raised $48,615 in the CoMo Gives fundraiser that ended Dec. 31.

Though the number of new refugees has slowed down in recent years, refugees continue to move to Columbia from other parts of the country, he said.

Its services includes professional development and job placement and basic needs including food, health services and counseling, Volunteers provide rides to refugees and assist them in understanding mail they receive.

Everything has been complicated by the pandemic, Pearson said.

“We’ve been holding weekly classes to help families use Zoom and Face Time,” he said.

A new school navigation program was funded through CoMo Helps, the collaboration among Boone County, City of Columbia, Community Foundation of Central Missouri and Heart of Missouri United Way.

“This program develops pathways and mobility for the hundreds of refugee and immigrant students in Central Missouri, ensuring students have equal support through this unprecedented school year,” Pearson said.

Refugees also are feeling the economic effects of the pandemic, with more using the agency’s professional development services.

“I would say it’s definitely impacted them severely,” Pearson said.

Both Pearson and Moog said they’re encouraged about the outlook for the coming year.

“I’m very hopeful in a time where hope is rare to come by,” Pearson said.

“It will be a really exciting time,” Moog said., 573-815-1719