Refugees are not a common sight in out-of-the-way Montana, but Missoula resident Mary Poole and her book club decided to make a change by welcoming fleeing families into their homes
Today, Poole runs the small non-profit, which helped persuade the International Rescue Committee to establish a refugee resettlement office here last year. At a time when resettlement is politically contentious, the non-profit is providing support to refugees from across the world in a politically conservative state where only 107 refugees have been resettled since 2001, the lowest total of any US state except Wyoming.
Soft Landing’s focus is as much on the Missoula community as on incoming refugees. The organisation, which consists of two part-time staff members, coordinates volunteers to support incoming refugees, including families that help place refugees to their new home and connect them to their neighbours. The organisation also promotes dialogue among community members on the sometimes uncomfortable topic of resettlement. Their mission is to ensure the Missoula community is both welcoming and informed.
It’s also been roughly 37 years since a significant population of refugees was resettled here within a short time frame. Between 1979 and 1980, roughly 366 Hmong refugees were resettled in Missoula, a more liberal community than much of the rest of the state, after fleeing repression from communist forces in Laos.
Now, nearly 40 years later, Missoula is accepting refugees again. Since August 2016, 117 refugees have been resettled in Missoula from Iraq, Syria, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and the Democratic Republic of Congo – more than the total number resettled in the entire state over the past 16 years. And hundreds of local volunteers have joined Soft Landing to make them feel welcome.
By October 2015, Poole had teamed up with several more community members to establish Soft Landing and secure fiscal sponsorship from a local non-profit. Volunteers then began reaching out to US-based resettlement agencies, eventually reaching Robert Johnson, former executive director at the International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) office in Seattle.
Today, when refugee families arrive in Missoula, volunteer mentors meet them at the airport and stay in close contact with them from day one. Soft Landing’s services are client-driven from that point forward.
This approach has continued to serve Soft Landing well as the organisation moves forward in a political climate marked by anti-immigrant rhetoric and executive orders. In January, after President Trump issued his first travel ban blocking citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entry into the country for 90 days, hundreds of Missoulians gathered in the city centre to protest the order, including Poole.
“Our goal is not to convince people what we’re doing is right and what they’re doing is wrong,” she says. “Our goal is just to create a more welcoming environment for refugees to call home.”
Source : Positive News