BOWLING GREEN, Ky. - With President Joe Biden moving to increase the nation’s refugee admissions, the International Center of Kentucky is preparing for an uptick in arrivals to Bowling Green that could even spill over into surrounding counties.
“We may have a very busy March,” International Center Executive Director Albert Mbanfu told Bowling Green’s Community Partnership for Refugee and Immigrant Families on Wednesday.
The group consists of representatives from local public school systems, the health department and other refugee resettlement stakeholders.
After next month, Mbanfu anticipated that the center’s refugee resettlement efforts would likely slow down until about June or July. Still, he estimated Bowling Green could get 300 to 350 arrivals by the end of the center’s fiscal year Sept. 30.
It would be a significant shift for the resettlement agency and Bowling Green overall. The International Center resettled about 150 refugees last year amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The next fiscal year will be a “whole different ball game,” Mbanfu said.
“If everything works well, we may be extending out of Warren County,” he said.
Consultations with elected officials and stakeholders in outlying counties could begin as early as May or June, he said. However, the center is not looking at opening new regional offices at this time.
Mbanfu said the Biden administration wants to resettle at most about 62,000 refugees nationwide this fiscal year. Previously, former President Donald Trump’s administration set the annual admissions cap at 15,000 – the lowest amount since passage of the Refugee Act in 1980 that created the federal resettlement program.
Still, Mbanfu said it could take years to rebuild the nation’s refugee resettlement infrastructure.
In Trump’s term, more than 100 resettlement organizations closed their doors for good, and there were cuts to overseas employees who work to process refugees and ease their admission into the U.S., Mbanfu said.
Organizations abroad that help refugees assemble documents and prepare for their admissions interviews also saw their staff reduced by almost 80%, Mbanfu said.
“(The resettlement program) will need to be rebuilt before we can have that full capacity to resettle that the administration wants,” Mbanfu said.
Of the roughly 62,000 refugees the U.S. wants to target for admission this fiscal year, about 23,000 will come from Africa, followed by about 13,000 from the Near East and South East Asia, Mbanfu said. As many as 6,000 could come from East Asia, 4,000 from Europe and Central Asia and 5,000 from Latin America and the Caribbean.
Another 12,500 or so can come through the “unallocated reserve” category, Mbanfu said. That category is for refugees who don’t fall into any of the previously mentioned groups. The Biden administration can also expand the kinds of refugees brought in through that designation, Mbanfu said.