Northern Nevada Nonprofit Greenlighted To Resettle Refugees

May 12, 2016

Syrian refugee children at a camp in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.
Credit UNHCR, B. Sokol, Nov. 2012

The U.S. State Department has greenlighted a Northern Nevada nonprofit  to help resettle refugees escaping hotbeds of conflict around the globe beginning this fall.

Carina Black, executive director of the Reno-based Northern Nevada International Center, says their application to become an official resettlement agency was approved in February. They've since been laying the groundwork, and building a stakeholders' network, before those first few families arrive. 

"Those stakeholders include people from the health industry, from education, from ESL... people in the faith communities have been coming forward and showing a huge interest in helping us," she says. "So we're still basically conducting a lot of training...and getting ready for this new endeavor."

Black says initially about two families — approximately 10 people — could arrive by September. For the federal fiscal year running Oct. 2016 through 2017, they've asked to resettle at most 75 refugees.

"The breadth of conflict is so wide in today's world, that they will literally come from almost every continent," says Black. 

The full list of countries include: Cuba, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Eritrea, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. 

Black says even for those countries that have recovered from conflict, their refugees can remain unsettled for decades. 

"For example, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, [there are] still displaced people from all the way back to the war in Rwanda from 1994," she says. "So that conflict has basically shifted to another territory. You have people there who have been living in refugee centers for a long period of time."

All refugees relocating to Reno will go through a vigorous, federal screening process, which can take between 18-24 months.

Mayor Hillary Schieve was quoted last November saying she would prefer a "pause" on the program, following the terrorist attacks in Paris, but Black says she's since had productive meetings with Schieve and other city council members to assuage their concerns. 

"[We're] still moving forward in that process of educating not just the city, but our community in general about how strict and stringent and long that vetting process is," she says. 

Credit NNIC

 Black says the United States has always been welcoming to refugees — resettling more than 3 million individuals since 1980. 

With this new status, NNIC will become only the second agency in the state allowed to resettle refugees. The other agency, Vegas-based Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada, has helped relocate more than 8,000 people since 2011.  

Black says most of the misconceptions surrounding these programs are due to the fact that most Americans are unaware of just how commonplace they've become. 

"A majority of people have come to learn that we actually do have a very robust and long-standing refugee resettlement program in the United States," she says.

And it can't come at a more critical time, says Black. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, the number of people forcibly displaced by violence, persecution and other conflict has reached an all-time high at nearly 60 million.  

"The people that are fleeing places like Syria are fleeing the exact same terrorism that we are fighting. ...We're a country of immigrants, we know exactly how to integrate."