Syrian refugees may help Baltimore, experts say

Posted at 8:46 PM, Sep 17, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-17 20:46:23-04
Millions of refugees from Syria, a nation torn by a years long civil war, have left, hoping to find safety, and in their safety, they could be helping the cities in which they land, a growing field of analysts and humanitarian watchers are saying.
That could be of large benefit to Baltimore. 
The five year long civil war in Syria has forced more than 4 million people to find new homes. Many have found refuge in neighboring nations, including Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, but those countries have reached a critical mass, a space is running out.
"Most of the country has been destroyed; half of the population is mobile," Ruben Chandrasekar, Executive Director at the Baltimore office of the International Rescue Committee, a group making its mission to help people forced from their homes in conflicts across the globe.
"Those countries are already overwhelmed with refugees, and are unable to take care of the day to day needs of those refugees," he said.
This month, President Barack Obama said the U.S. would take in 10,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2016. Chandrasekar, however, said his organization is calling for 10 times that amount.
"The U.S. has a history of re-settling large numbers of refugees," he said, pointing to the large numbers of Vietnamese that found homes in the S.S. after the Vietnam War. In Baltimore today, more than 7,500 Vietnamese live, according to U.S. Census numbers, where some own businesses and pay taxes in a city whose population has fallen by at least a third in three decades.
"Baltimore's population has fallen a lot over the decades, and immigrants and refugees, specifically, are one way to build that up," said Dr. Elizabeth Clifford, Chairperson of Towson University's Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice.
That idea is at the focus of what some are beginning to say could help a city such as Baltimore rid itself of urban blight, where blocks of vacant homes sit abandoned.
Chandrasekar said his office has helped settle 26 individuals and families from Syria in the past year.
"The cities that grew in the 2000 census, from 1990 to 2000, were all ones that got a lot of immigrants," Clifford said.
But it's not only helping to add to Baltimore's population which Clifford said could helpful to the city.
"Immigrants, in general, tend to be entrepreneurs at higher levels than native born [people], so you've got businesses started, you've got tax revenue coming in."
A spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawllings-Blake said her administration is working with groups like the IRC to help grow the city by 10,000 families, a plan of which she previously unveiled, but "believe immigration can be a significant factor in helping" to achieve that goal."
"We have found that New Americans have come to Baltimore to open new businesses, create jobs, and increase the diversity in many neighborhoods," spokesman Howard Libit wrote in an email.
Chandrasekar said that is part of the reason he believes the U.S. can accept many more than 10,000 immigrants from this crisis.
"We feel that it's important for the U.S. to step up now," he said.
Before this recent crisis, Chadrasekar said the Obama administration, via what's known as a presidential determination," was open to just 8,000 refugees from Syria.
The U.S. State Department lists a refugee as a person who leaves their country due to fear of death or persecution because of their religion, race, political beliefs, or nationality.
The Department of Homeland Security is responsible for conducting security and health screenings.
Both the IRC and the State Department help refugees find housing, employment and teach them how to get their kids into school.
The IRC asks for donations of gently used clothing to help in their efforts.
You can visit their website by clicking here.