ATHENS | The plan to resettle an increased number of international refugees in the Athens area is facing opposition from Athens-Clarke County Mayor Nancy Denson.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Wednesday that Denson complained to state agencies that the International Rescue Committee, the nonprofit organization with plans to begin resettling refugees here this winter, hadn’t given the city enough time to asses its ability to handle an increased number of refugees.
Denson addressed her concerns about refugees straining public resources in a letter sent on Aug. 18 to state government officials in charge of refugee resettlement in Georgia.
The Athens Banner-Herald reported in July that the International Rescue Committee, or IRC, planned to begin resettling refugees from countries like Myanmar and Iraq in Athens through a new office here as soon as November. As many as 150 refugees could arrive in the first year.
Denson wants those plans put on hold. Other leaders in the community agree with the mayor.
In an interview Thursday morning, Denson said she didn’t think Athens was ready for an influx of refugees at this moment, especially when it comes to finding jobs for the city’s new residents.
“Our community is stretched very thin...” Denson said.
She also said she didn’t believe IRC had done an accurate analysis to Athens-Clarke’s situation and or that J.D. McCrary, executive director of IRC’s Atlanta office, had communicated with law enforcement, school officials and other leaders in the community.
“It’s not that hard to get in touch with us,” Denson said.
McCrary told the Journal-Constitution that he had been “actively engaged in public outreach in the Athens-Clarke County area.”
McCrary has not responded to requests for comment.
Athens Area Homeless Shelter Executive Director Shea Post, who worked in refugee resettlement before moving to Athens, met with McCrary early this summer. The shelter uses a re-housing program similar to the one McCrary hoped to implement in Athens, Post said.
“There’s a lot of education that needs to be done in terms of what refugee resettlement entails,” Post said.
Refugees quickly adapt to their surroundings and become self-sufficient, and all the support they need in the short term is provided by the IRC and the federal government, including language and literacy education, she said.
Refugees are known to be positive, revitalizing forces in the communities they join, Post said.
The IRC was putting the practical pieces in place, Post said, focusing on housing and literacy. As for the concerns that Athens’ leaders are raising about refugees, Post thinks McCrary “is fully capable of addressing these questions.”
The IRCis known around the country as one of the most successful resettlement programs, used as a model by smaller agencies, she said.
“This is something we can handle,” Post said.
Until she received an email from McCrary on March 14, Denson said she’d never heard of IRC.