Over the last ten years, Pittsburgh has welcomed more than 1,500 refugees from 22 countries, most of whom hail from Bhutan, China’s neighbor in southern Asia.
Anne Richard, Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, met with Pittsburgh City Council to address resettlement of refugees in the city. During her visit she also spoke with members of the community and refugees who have settled in the area.
Richard said refugees could not come to Pittsburgh without local community involvement.
“Some of the local churches will adopt refugee families. There are AmeriCorps volunteers who will be asked to visit refugees in their home,” Richard said. “Some of the university students, of whom I know you have a lot, like to get involved as volunteers to visit refugees at home.”
To clarify, a refugee is not the same as an immigrant. Leslie Aizenman, Director of the Refugee Program for the Jewish Family & Children Services in Pittsburgh, said the official definition of a refugee is someone who has a well-founded fear of persecution, and hopes to return to their home country voluntarily.
“[The definition] is not decided by anyone locally,” Aizenman said. “It’s not decided by the United States, it’s decided by the United Nations.”
Aizenman explained that the President of the United States and the nation’s executive office decide which refugees come into the nation each year. The 10 national refugee resettlement agencies, along with their local affiliates, then decide to where they are relocated.
Aizenman said even though the agencies could essentially place the refugees anywhere, they try to relocate them based on faith and family ties, too.
She noted Pittsburgh is accumulating a lot of what’s called secondary migrants, or refugees who are placed in the United States, but then move to Pittsburgh.
“Pittsburgh is catching on as a place where there’s safe, affordable living, jobs where they can support their families, good schools, and welcoming,” Aizenman said.