New analysis from the Washington Post ranks Idaho among the top five most welcoming states for refugees. The newspaper looked at the relative populations of the states where refugees were re-settled in fiscal years 2013 and 2014. North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Nebraska also ranked near the top.
The modern era of welcoming persecuted groups began in 1975 when Governor John Evans opened the doors to Vietnamese and other southeast Asian groups after the fall of Saigon. In the late 1980s, refugees during the Cold War came from places like Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria. The Bosnian war created thousands of refugees, some of whom ended up in Idaho.
"Resettlement of refugees is really a local effort and I think the impact on communities is what matters," says Idaho Office for Refugees director Jan Reeves. Boise and Twin Falls are the two cities where refugees routinely get placed.
Reeves says the diversity of the countries where people come from has increased a lot in the last 20 years, and in modern years 18-25 different nationalities are represented in refugees resettled in Idaho. He says that diversity has made Idaho’s culture and economy more robust.
"The diversity that refugees bring into our community is a very positive factor, and the hard work and success they achieve is good for all of us."
Reeves says a current campaign to ban the refugee center in Twin Falls comes from an unwarranted fear. A group there is collecting signatures to try and get the measure on the ballot within the year.
In fiscal year 2015, Idaho has taken in about 900 people fleeing dangerous situations abroad. Most of them are Iraqi, Bhutanese, Somalian or Congolese.
President Obama will decide in the next couple of weeks if the United States will take in more refugees this year, and from what countries. It’s not clear yet how many refugees could be resettled in Idaho.
Find reporter Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill
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