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"It Hurts My Heart": Muslim Refugee Resettlement in Bowling Green Virtually Eliminated

Becca Schimmel

Tougher federal guidelines on refugee resettlement are having a big impact on a southern Kentucky agency.

The Trump administration has cut the overall number of refugees allowed into the U.S., and has added increased layers of security that have drastically cut the number of refugees from majority-Muslim countries. The advocacy group Human Rights First says there’s been a 90 percent decline in the number of refugee Muslim admissions in the U.S. compared to the 2017 federal fiscal year.

Albert Mbanfu, executive director of the Bowling Green-based International Center of Kentucky, said the Trump administration policy has virtually ended resettlement of Muslims in Bowling Green since the start of the federal fiscal year last October.

“They’re not coming in,” the native of Cameroon said. “We’ve not received any refugee from any Muslim countries since the beginning of this fiscal year. In fact, we received one Somali kid, and it’s because that’s a kid, and the child took refuge in a country that was not a Muslim country.”

Before the new federal policies, the International Center of Kentucky helped resettle refugees from countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Mbanfu says his agency is now focusing on resettling refugees from a small number of countries, mostly in parts of Africa and Asia.

“Most of them are coming in from Congo, Rwanda, Burma, Bhutan, and a few who are trickling in from Ethiopia.”

None of those countries are Muslim-majority countries. Mbanfu said most of the refugees settled by his agency so far this federal fiscal year have been Christians.

“It hurts my heart,” said Mbanfu, who describes himself as an evangelical Christian. He said it makes him “emotional” to think that the refugee resettlement process has reached the point of having to make distinctions between religious groups. “It touches me so much, because I think if we want to help, let’s look at the human being. Forgot about the religion, race, ethnicity, etc." 

President Trump last year set a capon the overall number of refugees allowed annually into the U.S. at 45,000, a historically low figure.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that the White House is considering a second major reduction in the number of refugees who would be allowed to resettle in the U.S. The Times report said senior policy advisor Stephen Miller, known for his hardline stance against immigration, has previously argued for the cap to be as low as 15,000.

Kevin is the News Director at WKU Public Radio. He has been with the station since 1999, and was previously the Assistant News Director, and also served as local host of Morning Edition.
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