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Resettled Liberian Civil War refugee shares experiences at Miss - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

Resettled Liberian Civil War refugee shares experiences at Missoula forum

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Speakers shared their perspective and stance on resettlement, including Wilmot Collins, who is himself a resettled refugee living in Montana. (MTN News photo) Speakers shared their perspective and stance on resettlement, including Wilmot Collins, who is himself a resettled refugee living in Montana. (MTN News photo)
MISSOULA -

The resettlement of refugees fleeing the Syrian Civil War has been one of hottest topics, locally and nationally, in the past few months. 

The Missoula City Club hosted an open forum on Monday for citizens to discuss the issue.

The group heard from three speakers. Each shared their perspective and stance on resettlement, including Wilmot Collins, who is himself a resettled refugee.

"I can tell you, I went through the process. That process is intense, vigorous, detailed. It took me two years and seven months to join my family," Collins said. "I'm not part of a team. I'm an American."

Collins immigrated to Helena, Montana in 1994 during the Liberian Civil War. He and his wife, also an immigrant, have lived in the state ever since. 

Collins was one of three speakers at the forum, including anti-refugee activist Jim Buterbaugh from Whitehall, who says the issue is not about race or religion, but national security. 

"This is how it runs. I don't understand why the government is so hot on helping every country but the United States," Buterbaugh said.

The third speaker was Mary Poole, who helped start Soft Landings Missoula, who has been active in making refugee resettlement to Missoula possible.

Soft Landing Missoula has been working with the International Rescue Committee who have submitted an application to the State Department in favor of opening a Resettlement Office in Missoula, which is pending approval.

She says the city has been very supportive of the possibility of accepting refugees.

"We have a strong history of successful refugee resettlement and voluntary agencies are looking for new locations," Poole said. "Missoula is a great-sized city. Resettling refugees in large cities can get lost, so we're a great welcoming place. And Missoulians have shown interest by the hundreds."

Collins says he was met with resistance when he first came to Montana, but couldn't be more happy with the second chance the state provided for him and his family. 

"We're talking about doctors. We're talking about nurses. We're talking about office, we're talking about engineers that have contributed to this economy and to this country," Collins said. 

Opinions on the issue have been regionally mixed, with Missoula County representatives supporting refugees and Ravalli and Flathead counties being against relocation.

For the 2016 fiscal year, the U.S. has committed to accepting about 85,000 refugees worldwide, with up to 10,000 of those from Syria. 

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