refugees

Bowling Green International Festival

Downtown Bowling Green will be a showcase for more than 50 international cultures this weekend.

The 27th annual Bowling Green International Festival is being held Saturday at Circus Square Park.

The event will feature information booths, musical performances, and food from more than 50 cultures. Festival board member Hannah Barahona says it’s a showcase for the many refugee and immigrant communities in Bowling Green.

“It’s a good opportunity for people to come learn about other cultures, and experience new things and new foods, and new music. But at the same time, we’re really unique in that we offer the international community here in Bowling Green an opportunity to showcase and share the things that are most special from their cultures.”

Barahona says the event has seen major growth since she started volunteering eight years ago.

Kevin Willis

About forty refugee children living in Bowling Green are getting some help in preparing for the upcoming school year.

The Warren County-based International Center of Kentucky partnered with four community organizations to provide school supplies to the children.

One of those in line Thursday to get a backpack filled with supplies was 14-year-old Maya Nayab. She and her family arrived last week in Kentucky after fleeing religious persecution in Pakistan.

She says she’s looking forward to starting ninth grade classes next week.

“I think it’s going to be important for me and my life—the studies are most important. I love to study, so I’m going to complete my graduation as soon as possible,” said Nayab, who is one of ten family member who recently relocated in Bowling Green.

The other groups contributing to the school supply campaign are Starbucks, the WKU Store, Strawberry Fields Yoga, and Women’s Intercultural Café.

Kayla Luttrell, a case manager with the Bowling Green-based International Center of Bowling Green, says the children and their parents are grateful for the help.

Lisa Autry

A standing-room-only crowd packed into the Bowling Green Schools’ Professional Learning and Development Center on Friday night for a town hall on the proposed resettlement of Syrian refugees.  Heated exchanges between opposing sides last two hours. 

Albert Mbanfu, executive director of the International Center of Kentucky, explained the extensive screening process that takes 18-24 months before refugees are approved for resettlement in the U.S.  

Mbanfu introduced Major General Allen Youngman, a Bowling Green resident and former Adjutant General of Kentucky.  Youngman tried to put to rest fears of terrorism by explaining that the government’s current vetting process did not exist on September 11, 2001, the date of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.  The screening process, he said, has become much more stringent in the past decade.

“I would not have been able to tell you ten years ago that I had a lot of confidence in the system.  We have things in place today that we didn’t have just a few years ago,” Youngman remarked.  “I feel pretty good about it.  Is it foolproof?  No.”

Youngman said anyone wanting to harm the U.S. would likely not go through the refugee resettlement program, but instead through a student or tourist visa.

The sponsor of a resolution to require Tennessee to sue the federal government over its refugee resettlement program is unhappy with Republican Gov. Bill Haslam for refusing the sign the measure.

Haslam last week allowed the resolution to go into effect without his signature, saying that he had concerns about one branch of government telling another one what to do. The governor also asked the state attorney general for a legal opinion on whether the Legislature has the power to hire its own attorney to sue over the matter.

Senate Republican leader Mark Norris of Collierville in a letter to Haslam on Tuesday said the governor had mischaracterized the resolution and that the federal government has not provided enough information to determine whether refugees could be linked to terrorism.

Lisa Autry

The proposed resettlement of Syrian refugees in Bowling Green has some community members questioning their safety.

Albert Mbanfu heads the Kentucky International Center and hopes a public meeting on Friday will relieve some of those concerns.

"I really encourage the population to come out and get this information firsthand rather than listen to people who may not have the right information that may skew their reasoning and line of thought," Mbanfu told WKU Public Radio.

Mbanfu says he will explain the extensive process that refugees must go through before resettling in the U.S.

The federal government is considering a proposal to send 40 Syrians to Bowling Green in October.

The town hall will take place Friday at 5:00 p.m. at the Bowling Green Schools’ Professional Learning and Development Center on Old Morgantown Road.

Flickr/Creative Commons/World Bank Photo Collection

Bowling Green is preparing to welcome Syrian refugees later this year who are fleeing their country’s civil war.  

In a meeting Tuesday, the Bowling Green International Center and its community partners agreed to begin accepting 40 Syrian refugees in October.  The resettlement has drawn the ire of some locals who are worried about the threat of terrorism. 

"Many of our leaders and citizens of Bowling Green are not comfortable with the Obama administration's assertion that the federal government can confidently vet refugees from this part of the world," said Bowling Green City Commissioner Melinda Hill.

Immigrants relocating to the United States must complete a 14-step vetting process, according to Albert MBanfu, executive director of the Kentucky International Center.

"The fear is real," MBanfu told WKU Public Radio.  "At the same time, we cannot allow fear to overcome the best we have in us as Americans."

Mbanfu added that any Syrian wanting to harm the U.S. would likely not come through the refugee program.  Instead, they would likely arrive with a visitor’s visa that doesn’t require background checks. 

Creative Commons

While talks of barring refugees from coming to the U.S. persist among politicians, Kentucky agencies are preparing to welcome some 2,000 refugees from around the world in 2016.

And those refugees will need health care.

The University of Louisville’s Refugee Health Program looks at health issues for those fleeing threats and violence, and provides services to people resettling in Kentucky.

Last year, 2,141 adult and children refugees received health screenings in Louisville, Bowling Green and Owensboro, according to the Kentucky Refugee Health Assessment Report, released on Thursday.

Rahel Bosson, director of the program, said although there are certain conditions that are population-specific among refugees, overall, some of the top health concerns for refugees are also common for Kentuckians.

“Dental abnormalities — things like cavities, tooth abscess. Vision problems, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, obesity, tobacco abuse,” she said.

LRC

Refugees would be allowed to remain in Kentucky high schools past their 21st birthday under a measure that has cleared the Kentucky House of Representatives. House Bill 183 is sponsored by Bowling Green Democrat Jody Richards, who says the proposal is intended to help refugees who have come to the United States to escape persecution in other countries.