MISSOULA (AP) – An exhausted Congelese family of six experiencing culture shock has arrived in Missoula, the first of an anticipated 100 east African refugees expected to be resettled in Montana over the next year, a resettlement agency official said.
The family arrived last Thursday and International Rescue Committee Missoula director Molly Short Carr declined to identify them because of privacy concerns, but said three of the family’s four children spent their entire lives in a Tanzanian refugee camp.
“You’re going to see them in the community and know they’re here, but at the same time we need to remember they are individuals and may not want this information shared,” Carr told the Missoulian in a story published Saturday.
The family has been placed in temporary housing. The IRC will help them apply for social services, Social Security cards, register the children for school and help the parents enroll in English classes. The parents speak Swahili and French.
A total of 25 refugees are expected to arrive in Missoula by the end of September. Missoula County commissioners previously invited 100 refugees a year to resettle in the county, and the IRC re-opened its Missoula office earlier this year.
All of the refugees bound for Montana have been vetted by the United Nations and the U.S. departments of State and Homeland Security, a process that typically takes three years.
The same week the family arrived in Missoula, Republican candidate for governor Greg Gianforte began mailing out fliers urging a halt to refugee resettlement in Montana.
One of the fliers shows Gianforte’s opponent, Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, pictured under an armed man whose face is covered by a kaffiyeh with the words, “Governor Bullock supports bringing Syrian refugees into Montana.”
The flier calls for stopping “any refugee resettlement until we know they can be properly vetted.”
Bullock has noted that governors have little authority to influence the resettlement process, which is overseen by the federal government.
The timing of the fliers with the arrival of the first refugee family in Montana was a coincidence, said Gianforte campaign spokesman Aaron Flint.
He acknowledged that refugee resettlement is a federal government issue, but said Bullock should speak out against President Barack Obama resettling refugees from Syria.
“Seems he’s more interested in protecting Obama than in protecting Montana,” Flint said.
The photo on Gianforte’s flier does not represent the vast majority of refugees who arrive carrying all of their possessions in blue plastic bags, said Mary Poole, the head of Soft Landing, which is assisting the Missoula resettlement effort.
“It’s just really misinformation and it’s disheartening that people seeking a position of power would promote that misinformation and play off of such a persecuted population,” Poole said.
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