Bloomington to resettle refugees, including some from Syria, next year

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A group authorized by the federal government to resettle refugees, including those from Syria, has won approval to start up a program in Bloomington.

Exodus Refugee Immigration, one of two such organizations in Indiana, plans to move in 60 people from Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo next year, starting in March.

Their interest in Bloomington grew, local advocates say, because of the community's support for refugee families, as well as for a Muslim woman who was attacked outside a cafe last year.

"I’m so happy that refugees will be coming here, they will love it," Diane Legomsky said.

Legomsky chairs the Bloomington Refugee Support Network, an all-volunteer group of community members and organizations that started early this year in order to help refugees across the globe.

The group, working with Exodus Refugee Immigration, plans to offer supports to the refugee families as they adjust to the United States and Bloomington.

"We’ll really be helping them in any way they need," Legomsky said.

Not everyone in the community is on board, though.

Grassroots Conservatives, a group led by Robert Hall, is actively opposing the resettlement, particularly that of Syrian families.

"We don’t want terrorist attacks in Bloomington. We don’t want to change the culture and the climate in our community," Hall said.

In addition, Hall said he still has questions about the group's overall plan and its impact on Bloomington beyond just safety.

"We’re reaching out to the community to show that there is opposition to bringing in the refugees," Hall said. "There’s so many questions about how are they going to assimilate, how are they going to have interpreters for all these people, how are the schools going to handle it, what are the costs to the community?"

Legomsky, as well as Indiana University Associate Professor Elizabeth Dunn, who is aiding in the effort, said that the refugees would be vetted over a period of years by multiple government agencies.

"These are the most thoroughly vetted people coming to the United States. We don’t do research into anybody else to this extent," Dunn said.

Still, Governor Mike Pence has been fighting the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Indiana. That case is currently under advisement by federal judges, who will decide if Pence has the authority to keep families out. In the meantime, though, groups are actively resettling Syrians in the state.

Dunn, who herself spent 16 months embedded in a refugee camp as part of her academic research, said that the IU community offered a unique opportunity to have resources for refugees, including speakers of both Arabic and Swahili.

"When they come here, we’re giving them the chance to be the authors of their own lives again. We’re giving them back respect, dignity, self-esteem. I think that that’s enormous for them," Dunn said.

The Mayor and City Council have all expressed support for the plan.

Hall said that a public forum on this topic is planned November 9th at the Bloomington Library.

You can also find more information about Exodus Refugee Immigration and its programs at the link here.

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