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Influx of 435 refugee students expected within next year


Impact projected to be at 3 schools in Williams zone 

Refugees from 12 countries across five continents who are being resettled in Alamance County by two area nonprofits are projected to add 435 school-aged children to three Alamance-Burlington schools over the next year.

ABSS chief operations officer Dr. Todd Thorpe told school board members during their latest meeting that most, if not all, of those 435 new students will be enrolling at ABSS schools within the Williams attendance zone.

Data that has been furnished to ABSS shows that 114 refugee families are currently being resettled in Alamance County, Thorpe told The Alamance News this week.

Those families will add an estimated total of 435 students to ABSS schools in the Williams zone, “if each of those families has an average of [four] children,” Thorpe said Monday.

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“[The Williams zone] is going to grow, once we learn where the refugee area is going to be,” Thorpe told school board members during their latest discussion about the high school redistricting plan for ABSS.

The board didn’t broach a discussion about the impact that refugee resettlements in Alamance County will have on future capacity (i.e., the number of available seats) in ABSS schools.

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In a recent interview with The Alamance News, Thorpe elaborated that three schools are likely to be affected by the influx of refugee children: Highland Elementary School; Turrentine Middle School; and Williams High School.

“Currently, ABSS has 37 refugee students enrolled – 15 elementary, [nine] middle and 13 high school [students],” ABSS superintendent Dr. Dain Butler told The Alamance News Wednesday. “Highland and Williams have the most refugee students,” he added.

Refugee resettlements in North Carolina are being spearheaded by the state Department of Health and Human Services (NCHHS) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Thorpe confirmed for the newspaper.

In Alamance County, the resettlement effort is being led by Church World Service (CWS) and the North Carolina African Coalition in Greensboro. Both nonprofits are working to assist migrants and refugees who are coming into the county after being displaced from their homeland due to natural disasters, political violence, and/or persecution (see accompanying chart for a breakdown of countries of origin for refugees being resettled in Alamance County.


Temporary shelter at three apartment complexes in Burlington
The two nonprofits have informed ABSS that the 114 refugee families are being provided with temporary housing at three apartment complexes in Burlington: The Brittany; the Residences at Forestdale; and West Pointe Apartments.

52 percent of incoming refugee families being resettled in Alamance County
Statewide, a total of 219 refugee families from 18 countries are being resettled this year in the following five major metropolitan areas, according to the information provided to ABSS by the Durham Immigration and Refugee Office for CWS. The five metropolitan areas are:
• The Triad, which in addition to Burlington includes Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and High Point;
• The Triangle region, including Durham, Chapel Hill, and Raleigh;
• Charlotte;
• Fayetteville;
• Wilmington.

To begin the resettlement process, refugees must register with the UNHCR to receive an application or a referral, according to CWS. Applicants then go through interviews and screenings, to include screening for communicable diseases, with the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency.

Successful applicants are subsequently referred to local organizations such as CWS, which provide assistance with housing, food, and employment, based on the information that has been provided to ABSS officials.

Refugees who are ultimately approved for resettlement are then allowed to enter into the U.S. as “fully-documented, work-authorized immigrants,” according to a case worker in the Durham office for CWS.

The Durham nonprofit has also pledged to provide financial support – a minimum of $1,075 and an average of $1,225 per person – for the first 90 days following resettlement. Local agencies also assist refugees in finding additional, long-term services such as language translation, immigration assistance, and healthcare, based on the information that CWS has provided to the local school system.

The goal of the current refugee resettlement program is to enable adult refugees to obtain employment as quickly as possible in order to support themselves and their families, based on information from CWS.


Nearly half of all refugee children don’t attend school
“ABSS is required to enroll any student who is presented with the correct documentation for school assignment,” Butler told the newspaper Wednesday. “All of the students referenced live in our district and qualify for enrollment. Regarding their length of stay, staff is currently uncertain. Length of stay may depend on employment opportunities available for the families.”

CWS estimates that process typically occurs within 30 days of arrival in the U.S., though certain documents are required for enrollment, such as a federal “Form I-94, Arrival/Department Record,” required by DHS; AR-11 (alien’s change of address card); and/or a lease or utility bill.

While the two nonprofits are helping refugee families to navigate the process of enrolling their children in school, CWS estimates that 48 percent of refugee children never enroll in a K-12 school upon arriving in their new country.

CityGate Dream Center at 1423 North Church Street is serving as a Burlington location for CWS to provide services for refugee families that are being resettled in Alamance County, based on the information provided to ABSS.

The refugees who are being resettled in Alamance County are coming from Africa, Asia, Central America, North America, and South America, according to the information Zakel furnished to ABSS. The predominant languages spoken include: Arabic; Dari; Farsi; French; Kinyarwandan; Oromo; Pashto; Spanish; and Swahili, ABSS officials were told in early November.


Background on resettlements
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that 89.3 million people across the globe had been forcibly displaced from their homes by the end of 2021. Of those, “more than 4.3 million were estimated to be of undetermined nationality at the end of 2021,” according to the latest annual report from the U.N. refugee agency.

By comparison, the UNHCR estimated that, in 2010, 41 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced from their homes.

That number has continued to rise. In November 2015, the UNHCR estimated that there were 60 million refugees worldwide; by February 2020, the number of refugees worldwide had climbed to 70.5 million; and by May 2022, approximately 100 million people worldwide had been forcibly displaced from their homes, according to the UNHCR’s Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2021.

Approximately 69 percent of refugees who were displaced from their homes in 2021 came from five countries: Syrian Arab Republic (6.8 million); Venezuela (6.1 million, including refugees, migrants, and asylum-seekers); Afghanistan (2.7 million); South Sudan (2.4 million); and Myanmar (1.2 million), according to the UNHCR. Roughly 5.7 million refugees returned to their countries of origin in 2021, the agency reported last year.

While most refugees will eventually return to their home countries once conflict has been resolved, less than 1 percent of refugees choose to permanently reside in countries where they’ve been resettled, according to Lydia Zakel, a case manager in the Durham office for CWS.

Neither Zakel nor Ellen Andrews, a media liaison in the Durham office for CWS, had responded to phone and email inquiries from The Alamance News by press time Wednesday night.

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