The refugee resettlement agency for the Bowling Green region is planning to notify the federal government that it’s prepared to accept 500 refugees for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.
But officials who work with refugees are predicting the actual number of arrivals will be much lower.
The International Center of Kentucky gathered input from area leaders in the fields of education, health, housing, and employment to determine the regional capacity for welcoming refugees for the fiscal year Oct. 1, 2021, through September 30, 2022.
Executive Director Albert Mbanfu said the region has the ability to resettle 500 people based on data from the past 10 years.
“Two hundred will come from Africa, 150 will be from Southeast Asia, 50 will be from Near East and South Asia, and 50 will be from Latin America and the Caribbean, 30 will be from Europe, and 20 will be from the Middle East and North Africa," said Mbanfu, in a virtual meeting Monday.
The geographic categories are divided so that North Africa is included with the Middle East.
Despite his hopes for 500 new arrivals, Mbanfu said COVID-19 and a broken infrastructure for bringing in refugees means the region is likely to get between 250 and 350 arrivals in the upcoming federal fiscal year.
Bowling Green Independent School District Superintendent Gary Fields said the unpredictability of the resettlement figures increases the continuing financial strain on regional school districts.
“It’s becoming more and more difficult, with a lot of money that we’re having to find that isn’t coming from the federal government. It’s not coming from the Department of Education in Kentucky," said Fields. "The General Assembly is not allocating much money for us, ‘cuz they don’t see it in their own home district, so it’s our problem, in their mind, our problem, not their problem.”
Fields said the school district continues to have difficulty finding enough English language translators.
Resettlement leaders said they are considering expanding housing for refugees northward from the Bowling Green area, possibly around the town of Oakland, in order to more broadly distribute the school age population, and to allow some refugee families to be closer to jobs in other counties.