RUTLAND — A Vermont city that has become known for its efforts to battle heroin is hoping to resettle up to 100 Syrian refugees, as a way to continue its recovery and its century-long tradition as an ethnic melting pot, officials said Tuesday.
Mayor Christopher Louras said he and others have been working with the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program to prepare the city to accept the refugees, who would begin arriving in October.
"We will open the next chapter of our city's story by embracing those escaping the horrors of war and oppression," Louras said during an event at a City Hall room packed with supporters.
The United States has agreed to accept thousands of refugees from Syria who are fleeing a civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people. After last fall's terrorist attacks in Paris, some leaders across the United States balked at the prospect of bringing Syrian refugees to their communities. But Vermont officials said the state would welcome Syrians.
Louras said one of the first questions he asked once he began considering bringing Syrians to Rutland was if those individuals were properly screened to be sure there were no terrorists among them.
"I had to be able to speak with conviction to people in this room ... and to everyone outside of this building in the community that the security measures in place will not put this community at risk," he said.
Most of the refugees would be from families who are now living in refugee camps in Jordan, said Amila Merdzanovic, the director of the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program, who came to the U.S. as a refugee from Bosnia in the mid-1990s.
"Refugees are hard workers. They come here highly motivated," she said. "This is their second chance in life and they want to take full advantage of all the opportunities that we have offered to them here."
Rutland's invitation must still be approved by federal authorities, but Louras said that approval is expected.
Since 1989 more than 8,000 refugees from across the world have been settled in Vermont, although Merdzanovic said she did not know how many are still in the state today.
Rutland, a city of 16,500, has become well known for its efforts to confront a heroin epidemic that has festered in a city that has struggled economically for decades.
Louras said inviting Syrians to Rutland is part of that broader effort to revitalize the community by adding ethnic diversity to a community that in the late 19th and early 20th century became home to people from across the world who came to work in the region's stone industry.