After nearly three decades of resettling refugees, the World Relief organization’s last office in Florida is set to close its doors in Jacksonville at the end of this month.
The humanitarian nonprofit made the announcement this week, as the number of refugee arrivals in Duval County slowed to a trickle, from nearly 1,457 in 2016 to 294 last year.
Matthew Soerens is the Director of World Relief’s Church Mobilization. He said Jacksonville’s is the seventh office to close nationwide since President Donald Trump took office. Miami’s closed last year.
“It’s really disheartening and I think really discouraging for me personally, just because we know that both those communities, but Jacksonville in particular, have such a legacy of community based volunteers, church-based volunteers, that want to welcome refugees,” he said.
World Relief, which opened its Jacksonville office in 1990, is one of nine agencies nationally that collaborates with the U.S. State Department to resettle refugees.
The nonprofits typically help refugees set up their apartments, get their children into school, and go to doctors’ appointments. But the refugees are expected to pay back all the costs.
“So these people don’t come over here on a free ride. They actually get a bill from the United States government after their 90 days is up,” said Mary Strickland, who heads the Lutheran Social Services of Northeast Florida, another refugee settlement agency.
But these two organizations, along with the Catholic Charities Jacksonville Bureau, have been feeling the financial pinch since the Trump administration made refugee resettlement policy changes.
The changes include increasing the amount of vetting, which has made the resettlement process much longer. A 30,000 cap was put on the number of refugees allowed into the country for fiscal year 2019. The limit the Obama administration set for 2016 was 85,000.
“We have cut down staff a lot in the past few years,” said Soerens, who added the number of refugees resettled by the Jacksonville office declined by nearly 85 percent in the past two years.
World Relief resettled 496 refugees to Jacksonville in 2016 but only 84 last year. So far this year, it’s served just three refugees.
“It just reached a point where to sustain our program nationally, we can’t be in so many locations with so few refugees arriving,” he said.
The two other resettlement agencies in Jacksonville are also downsizing. Lutheran Social Services cut its staff by more than two-thirds, and Catholic Charities closed one of its refugee teaching centers.
Contact Abukar Adan at 904-358-6319, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @abukaradan17