Compelling news from the refugee and migrant sector
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

America’s rustbelt needs refugees

29 June 20161 comment

The USA’s rustbelt cities like Detroit and Pittsburgh are staple backdrops for gritty TV dramas and Hollywood gangster films.

But now refugees are helping to rejuvenate these urban victims of deindustrialisation.

Cities like Detroit, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Cleveland have struggled for decades to bounce back from the doldrums brought on by the collapse of local manufacturing.

With the current global refugee crisis displacing more than 60 million people, some struggling US cities are realising that refugees could be the solution to their problems.

And there is emerging evidence that strategies to recruit and empower refugees have injected new life into St. Louis, Cleveland, Chicago, Minneapolis, Nashville, Baltimore and others cities, refuting the idea that refugees hinder economies and are a danger to communities.

According to research by think tank The Brookings Institution, refugees bolster flagging populations, expand tax bases and launch scores of small businesses, transforming once desolate areas into thriving neighbourhoods.

Resettling families displaced by war is compassionate, but it’s also a smart way to give America’s cities a renewed jolt of energy, the researchers say.

They argue that cities need two things to stay strong: economic activity and population – and refugees provide both.

Many of America’s large and mid-sized cities have taken notice. Eighteen cities have so far established programs to attract, integrate and empower refugees.

In the late 1990s, an influx of Bosnian refugees to St. Louis turned around neighbourhoods that had been heading toward ghost-town status.

The area was, “teeming with new residents and new economic activity.” “Industrious Bosnians” ended up transforming a crime-ridden area into a “decent quarter,” the Brookings researchers said.

According to Anna Crosslin, head of St. Louis’ biggest refugee resettlement agency, some city residents were hostile to the idea of 9,000 Bosnian refugees moving in.

“But after a decade or two that sentiment is basically gone,” she said.

Ms Crosslin said that letting in thousands of Bosnians was “one of the best things that has ever happened to the city.”

There are other success stories. In Oklahoma City, 7,000 Vietnamese refugee families helped revitalise dying areas of the city and stabilized a declining neighborhood.

In Utica, in upstate New York, refugee families now make up 25 per cent of the population.

Local city leaders in Buffalo say refugees have improved the amenity of the city making it a more desirable place to live.

The Brookings Institution says refugees offer cities more than a short-term fix as they continue to boost population and foster development well after the first wave of refugees arrive.

Once established, refugee communities act as a magnet for friends, family and others who share a similar background.

They buy real-estate, launch new businesses and start families, expanding and energizing communities over the long term, according to researchers.

In Utica, 61 Somali refugees founded a community that grew into over 2,000 within a decade.

A 2012 study focused on Cleveland found that refugees from Bhutan, Ukraine, Burma and Somalia created new jobs and boosted the Cleveland economy by $US48 million.

Refugee-owned businesses directly contributed $US7.6 million in economic activity to the city in just a year.

Minneapolis-St. Paul, Philadelphia, Nashville and Dayton also faced similar population declines that were mitigated by incoming refugee groups.

Last year, 18 mayors of US cities signed an open letter asking to resettle more Syrian refugees in their respective communities.

“we see first-hand the myriad ways in which immigrants and refugees make our communities stronger economically, socially and culturally,” they wrote.

“The drive and enterprise of immigrants and refugees have helped build our economies, enliven our arts and culture and enrich our neighbourhoods.”

Refugee resettlement may not be a complete panacea for urban decay and it can take time for refugees, many of whom have spent years in refugee camps, to learn the language and get back on their feet.

But compared to most urban revitalisation policies, refugee resettlement appears to have an outstanding record of success in energising struggling cities.


Chloe Tucker
AMES Australia Staff Writer