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Rutland to welcome Syrian refugees - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Rutland to welcome Syrian refugees

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RUTLAND, Vt. -

People packed Rutland City Hall Tuesday to hear new plans for the city from Mayor Christopher Louras, plans to welcome up to 100 Syrian refugees this fall.

"We will open the next chapter on our city's story by embracing those escaping the horrors of war and oppression," Louras said.

Rutland will be the host community to the Committee on Refugees and Immigrants expansion throughout Vermont.

"Refugees are subjected to the most rigorous security screenings out of any visitor to the United States," said Amila Merdzanovic of the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program.

Merdzanovic says many tiers of federal government have responsibilities in this process: the Department of State, Homeland Security, FBI, CIA and Citizenship and Immigration Services are all involved.

"It takes about 1,000 days to process a single individual and they're subjected to interviews, fingerprinting and medical screenings," Merdzanovic said.

Officials say they understand the concern some may have. Louras told the crowd he's spoken with the highest levels of the Department of state and Homeland Security to ensure safety for Rutland residents.

"The security measures that are in place will not put this community at risk." Louras said.

Word of the plan spread quickly within the city.

"I think it's going to be great for Rutland. We need to grow our declining population and this is one answer to grow our population with some folks that are really interested in working hard and making a better life for themselves," said Cindi White of Rutland.

But not all Rutland residents feel the same way. Some downtown expressed concerns but declined to speak with us on camera. Strong opinions did fly around social media with worries like, "Why weren't the people of the city of Rutland even asked if we support this????" and "Really..bring more conflict to an already needy city?"

Officials declined to comment on how much the resettlement plan will cost, except to say that funding will come primarily from the federal government, with a small amount from the state and private donations.

"I believe that, in this instance, we are on the right side of history," said William Notte, the president of the Rutland Board of Aldermen.

Community leaders stood by the mayor to show their support. The president of Rutland Regional Medical Center says the hospital has 150 vacant job positions, and local schools are also on board.

"As an educator, I want to give the assurance to everyone in the community, and appreciate Mayor Louras' work, that we will welcome children into our schools," said Mary Moran, the superintendent of Rutland City Schools.

Rutland City Police declined to comment Tuesday. Vermont State Police say they were not consulted about the plan but have no concerns.

Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont, responded to the news saying he could not be more proud of Vermont and the Rutland community.

Vermont has welcomed about 8,000 refugees since 1989, but this will make Rutland the first place in the state to open its doors to refugees from Syria. Years of civil war in Syria fueled a massive exodus, pushing millions of refugees to seek asylum in other countries.

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