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Aberdeen Possible Direct Refugee Resettlement Site

UPDATE: According to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, under the US Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 70,000 refugees entered the US in fiscal year 2014. They were settled in 47 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. In 2014 South Dakota became home for 523 refugees from eleven different countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

The US State Department defines a refugee as someone who has fled from his or her home country and cannot return because he or she has a well-founded fear of persecution based on religion, race, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.  Since 1975, more than 3 million refugees from all over the world have arrived in towns and cities in all 50 states. According to officials with the US Department of State, refugees are referred to the US for resettlement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. There is an application and a series of interviews, as well as a health screening. The process can take 18-24 months or longer.

South Dakota could eventually have another direct resettlement site for refugees. A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. Currently any refugees who migrate to South Dakota arrive in Sioux Falls or Huron. A number of them choose to secondarily migrate to Aberdeen, and officials are considering making that city a direct resettlement site.

Tim Jurgens is the State Refugee Coordinator. He directs the Center for New Americans with Lutheran Social Services. Jurgens says he and others are trying to figure out the number of refugee eligible individuals that currently live in Aberdeen, to see if there’s a need to make it a direct resettlement site.

“Currently if they secondarily migrate into Aberdeen, so they arrive somewhere else, and they secondarily choose to move, it creates a bit of an issue,” Jurgens says. “Because when folks secondarily migrate, you don’t necessarily have all of the information you want or need for effective integration. Secondly, the funding is not necessarily going to be there immediately to assist the community. And then third, it’s just that you don’t know what services they’ve already achieved or already had, so you have to really restart that process for appropriate integration from a delayed time frame. So those would be the advantages to being a direct resettlement site.”

Jurgens says a staff member from Huron is traveling to Aberdeen at least twice a month to begin initial services. He says he’s working with state government and local stakeholders. A new site requires letters of support stating they’re on board with numbers or programming. He says no decision has been made yet. Aberdeen Mayor Mike Levsen says he’s in favor of more refugees coming to his city.

“We need workers, and we certainly would be glad to have more friends and neighbors and more children in our schools and more cultures that we can learn from,” Levsen says.

Levsen says growth can come with challenges, but also opportunities.

Tim Jurgens with Lutheran Social Services says people with refugee status tend to move to a second site either to be near family and friends, or to find work. He says with the state’s low unemployment rates, he expects more secondary migration to other towns in South Dakota.