By Tiffani Ireland
This is a two-part article giving the citizens of Edgefield –following a great deal of research on the part of the author – a way to understand how refugees are settled in South Carolina. Ed. Note
Refugee resettlement has become a national issue of late due to recent terrorist attacks such as the one in Paris in which 129 people were killed and 352 others injured. At least one of those Paris attackers is believed to have been a Syrian refugee who entered France on the premise of fleeing the current conflict in Syria. After the Paris attack, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley issued a letter to Secretary of State John F. Kerry, Nov. 16, 2015, requesting that the State Department not resettle any Syrian refugees in SC. In that letter Gov. Haley says, “I have concerns with the vetting process of refugees from conflict-zones, specifically Syria.” Referencing talks with intelligence officials, Gov. Haley goes on to say, “…there remain gaps in available intelligence for those fleeing Syria,” and says that due to this, it is “difficult, if not impossible, to thoroughly vet” those Syrians trying to enter the U.S. (To see a complete copy of this letter, please visit www.governor.sc.gov) However, this letter, is, as stated, simply a request. Refugee resettlement is a federally administered and funded program. As such, states do not have a role in the admittance or vetting process. In fact, most states do not even know that refugees have been resettled in their states until after the fact.
To get a better understanding of the refugee resettlement program and South Carolina’s role in it, The Advertiser spoke recently with the Karen Wingo, Director of Communications and Legislative Affairs with the Department of Social Services. Wingo’s agency is not involved in the admittance or placement of refugees but does maintain information on refugees that are resettled in SC and, as such, can provide statistical information regarding the program. To that end, Wingo could confirm that in “the last month or two” a Syrian family was relocated to the Midlands and that one other, a family of nine, has been approved for resettlement in SC. However, according to a spokesperson with the governor‘s office, with whom The Advertiser also spoke, there was “no communication from the federal government to the governor’s office that these Syrian refugees were being resettled in SC.” The governor’s office went on to say, “Only through our partnership with the South Carolina Department of Social Services and the resettlement agency, did we learn that Syrian refugees were arriving in our state.”
However, these two Syrian families are just a drop in the bucket, so to speak, when compared to the total number of refugees entering South Carolina yearly. According to Wingo, 758 refugees from multiple countries relocated to SC from Oct. 2010 to Sept. 2015. The national origins of those refugees, according to Wingo, include but are not limited to Afghani, Burmese, Congolese, Kenyan, Rwandan, Ukrainian, Honduran, Guatemalan, and Iraqi.
Just where are these refugees being resettled? Wingo said that since Jan. 1, 2014 through Sept. 2015, individuals have only been resettled in Beaufort, Berkeley, Charleston, Greenville, Horry, Lexington, Richland, and Spartanburg counties. No individuals have been settled in Edgefield County. This is notable because at a recent County Council meeting, a public speaker addressed Council voicing concerns that refugees are being resettled in rural areas before elected officials are aware of it. In fact, that citizen encouraged Council to join the four other counties in SC that have thus far issued resolutions against refugee resettlement in their counties. However, when specifically asked about rural resettlement, Wingo told The Advertiser, “I have not seen any trend in resettling in rural counties.” In fact, Wingo shared that there are two reasons that the opposite is true. Wingo said that one reason we see refugees resettled in larger, urban counties is the need for refugees to work closely with their resettlement agency. The other is that in a larger, urban county, refugees have more access to broader resources.