Finding a home in Pullman

As the United States commits to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016, community members met to discuss the Palouse as a possible resettlement location Thursday evening.

More than 50 members of the Pullman community gathered in the United Church of Christ in Pullman Thursday to hear from World Relief, a contracted resettlement agency coordinating these refugees and their transition. Mark Kadel and Andrea Simpson, both of World Relief, were present.

Kadel lead the discussion, which included the likes of city Councilman Nathan Weller, local congregation leaders, recent immigrants, and residents participate in the discussion. Several people present were in opposition of the proposal to bring refugees to the Palouse.

The U.S. already accepts 80,000 refugees from around the world every year, Kadel said. Fewer than 10,000 of them are from Syria. The United Nations estimated 4.4 million people have fled ongoing conflict in Syria and have become recognized by the U.N. as refugees, 50 percent of which are children. Less than half of one percent of all refugees is let into this country each year. There are 59.5 million refugees around the world, and 78 percent are women and children, according to World Relief.

World Relief is one of nine nationwide organizations contracted by the U.S. Department of State through the federal refugee resettlement program. Refugees must be referred by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to the U.S.; then, five agencies, including the Department of State, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Homeland Security, vigorously screen and actively monitor the refugees as they spend up to 17 years in refugee camps.

Kadel started the conversation Thursday by placing the audience in the shoes of a Syrian victimized by terrorists in their own nation.

“What would you do if they started killing everyone? Would you stay or leave everything?” he said.

Kadel’s organization has seen the resettlement of thousands of refugees into the U.S., including a few from Syria.

“For the people coming from Syria, it takes 24 months, 18 at the minimum, for them to be resettled in the U.S.,” he said. “We see almost 600 refugees that come to Spokane each year. However, we expect only 2 families from Syria in 2016.”

Washington state resettled 2,980 refugees last year, the majority in King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties.

World Relief has helped settle those fleeing persecution and conflict since 1975. The organization first saw action after the expansive refugee crisis in the wake of the Vietnam War; hundreds of those refugees settled in the Northwest.

Most refugees in the area end up in Spokane, but the possibility of a sub-office in Pullman could arise in the near future.

“Resettlement offices are required to allow refugees to be established, unless on a family re-unification basis,” Kadel said. “If the community responds well and the application is fast-tracked, we could reasonably start seeing refugees in Pullman as soon as October 2016.”

A process such as this is divisive, and with heighted concern of terrorism around the globe, many fear resettlements may provide a window of opportunity for such to take place.

One man at the discussion echoed that sentiment and announced during the meeting, “Shouldn’t we help the orphans in this nation before we allow orphans from other nations first?” Others were concerned with the screening process.

The comments were met with polite acknowledgment and a reminder that this meeting was strictly for those wishing to help refugees, not to debate the topic.

“There’s a lot of ways people can immigrate to the U.S. However, the refugee process is the most vetted and safe process,” Kadel said. “America’s opened the door to us. We really don’t have the right to close the door behind us.”

The dissenting comments also met the remark of Wafa Alkurda, a Pullman resident.

“Both sides have valid ideas about each other, but before we make an opinion we need to be informed,” she said. “We need to know each other in the first place.”

Elizabeth Siler, a clinical assistant professor of English at WSU and co-organizer of the event, offered contrasts to the region’s responsibility in the crisis.

“To deny a refugee is to deny the part of you that is a refugee,” she said.

Siler will be one of the few organizing a group of residents who seek to have a World Relief sub-office in Pullman capable of bringing refugees to Pullman.

Kadel ended the meeting with a note about the US’s role throughout history, particularly in being the beacon for these refugees and their futures.

“Their children’s children will end up just like us,” he said.

More information regarding World Relief Spokane and its efforts can be found online at

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