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Economic impact of refugees in Burlington - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Economic impact of refugees in Burlington

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

A Massachusetts mayor asked the federal government to stop sending refugees to his city. It's sparked a debate about whether accepting refugees drains city resources. So, what is the economic impact refugees have in Burlington?

Former Vietnam refugee, Thanh Pham, knows how hard running a business can be. He owns three of them.

"We work every day. I have no day off. Every day working 6 a.m. until whenever we're done," said Pham.

Pham came to America 25 years ago. He had no job, no money and barely spoke English. Through the help of the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program, Pham says he was able to get on his feet.

"When I came they help us a lot with all the paperwork, jobs and they showed us about America. Still today they still come and they want to see how we're doing. They're really helpful and we're real lucky," said Pham.

Pham is one of 6,500 immigrants the organization has helped since 1989. The program's director, Amila Merdzanovic, considers her own story a testament to the resettlement program.

"I came to the United States as a refugee from Sarajevo from Bosnia in 1995 and I was resettled by the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program," Merdzanovic said.

But not everyone is happy to welcome the refugees into their community.

The new mayor of Springfield, Massachusett, Domenic Sarno, recently asked the federal government to stop sending refugees to his city. He says it strains city resources.

Vermont's resettlement program-- just like Springfield's-- is funded by the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. But Sarno says the city is stressed because it has to supply jobs and housing to its new refugees.

The U.S. State Department says the average refugee costs $1,800 over the first eight months. Because 95 percent of refugees in the Vermont program find work over their first six months, the average cost of a refugee in Vermont is less than the national average.

Benjy Adler, the owner of the Skinny Pancake and Chubby Muffin restaurants in Chittenden County says he sees economic benefits in welcoming refugees. They helped him grow his business.

"Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program is really an integral part of our hiring process... They understand how and where to place these refugees in effective positions," said Adler.

Supporters of refugee resettlement say they are eager to work and energized by new opportunity.

"If you walk down North Street in Burlington or Main Street in Winooski and if you look around, you will see many refugee- or formerly refugee-owned businesses and that's the best proof of what people are capable of doing," said Merdzanovic.

Pham owns one of those businesses on Main Street in Winooski. He says even the governor is now one of his loyal customers.

"We're just lucky," said Pham.

Vermont received around 300 refugees last year. Four different refugees all say that relocation would have been much more difficult without the help of the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program, but to give that help, the city must be willing to accept the price tag that comes with it.

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