UM Lecture Series: Refugee Resettlement in Montana

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Date(s) - April 5, 2023
6:30 pm - 8:00 pm


The Ways We Welcome: The Expanding Possibilities for Welcoming Refugees and Those Fleeing Danger

Over 100 million people are forcibly displaced globally, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the highest number on record and an undeniable sign of the tragedy and desperation that has befallen so many people around the world. 

President Joe Biden’s administration aims to welcome 125,000 refugees this fiscal year – the highest target in decades. Achieving this goal and doing what we can to mitigate the ongoing violence and conflict worldwide that has led to a crisis of this magnitude requires commitment and creative solutions. 

In 1980, the United States formalized the Refugee Resettlement Admissions Program (USRAP). Just before that, an International Rescue Committee (IRC) office opened in Missoula in 1979 to facilitate the arrival of Hmong refugees from places like Vietnam and Laos. The office was open for only a few years, closing in the early 1980s and making Montana one of only two states without an active resettlement program. Still, Missoula was still able to welcome select refugees from Belarus, Ukraine, Russia and a number of other places through additional pathways and the generous support of faith communities and neighbors. 

When grassroots efforts led to the founding of Soft Landing Missoula in 2015, the community-led group spurred the IRC to reopen its doors and begin welcoming refugees through resettlement once again – a vision achieved when the first family arrived in August 2016 from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 

Since then, much has changed as the number of people forced from their homes has risen to a staggering 100 million, and the United States has fallen short of its refugee admissions goals in recent years. A complicated system of government and international organization; an overloaded immigration system; and reduced government capacity to vet and process refugee applications has seriously slowed the rate at which refugees have been able to arrive. 

This lecture will clarify the current landscape around refugee resettlement and other related immigration pathways such as humanitarian parole and asylum. This is especially pertinent as people learn more about the federal government’s recently launched private sponsorship program Welcome Corps and recall the various other forms of arrival created to welcome Afghans and Ukrainians in crisis. 

To someone not steeped in this work, it can all be very confusing, and this lecture will provide Missoulians with a chance to better understand our country’s role in mitigating the global displacement crisis and how we try to go about it; the many ways new neighbors arrive here and what we can all do to help; and how Missoula stands to be impacted by all the many new ways to welcome refugees and create an inviting community where all can thrive.