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Local refugee mix to change, official predicts

Burmese refugees will continue to resettle in Fort Wayne, although in smaller numbers, an official for the U.S. State Department predicted Thursday.

The decline might be offset by an increase in refugees from Congo and Iraq, according to Larry Bartlett, director of refugee admissions for the State Department. About 60 Congolese refugees have come to Fort Wayne in recent years.

“I would expect the program in Fort Wayne to remain strong,” Bartlett told a gathering of city and Allen County government leaders at Citizens Square. “We certainly do not want to overwhelm a community.”

Mayor Tom Henry said that “for a while, we were being overloaded.… We just did not have the resources.”

Henry was referring to 2007 and 2008, when Catholic Charities of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese was approved to resettle more than 1,400 Burmese refugees in Fort Wayne. This year’s cap is 170.

Bartlett acknowledged that the 2007-08 influx “probably is not the right model for how we manage a program.”

Among 350 resettlement communities nationwide, only three are in Indiana -- Fort Wayne, South Bend and Indianapolis.

“Not every community rallies around refugees,” Bartlett told Henry. “And so it is especially gratifying to come to a place that does. But I’m not here to tell you that your work is done.”

Because of wars and persecution around the world, “there are many millions of people in need of protection,” said Shelly Pitterman, regional director of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

More than 2,700 Burmese refugees have come to Allen County since 1993, fleeing military rule in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. Democratic changes there are expected to slow and perhaps reverse the exodus.

Because of secondary migration from others cities, Fort Wayne is home to at least 5,000 Burmese, Henry said.

“To me, it’s a good problem to have. They wouldn’t come here if we didn’t have something to offer them,” the mayor said.

For more on this story, see Friday’s print edition of The Journal Gazette or visit www.journalgazette.net after 3 a.m. Friday.

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