A humanitarian group that helps refugees settle in western Kansas is shutting down its office in the region amid changing rules that welcome fewer newcomers to the country and the state.
The International Rescue Committee, or IRC, says a falling number of refugees prompted the agency’s plans to shutter its Garden City office at the end of September.
Kansas took in 580 refugees in the 12-month period that ended Sept. 30, compared to 914 the year before. IRC officials said they expect the drop-off to look even more dramatic this year. That trend reflects tightening U.S. State Department guidelines that make it harder for refugees to seek sanctuary in the United States.
In addition, a State Department spokeswoman said that in December the department told resettlement agencies it would withdraw funding from sites that take on fewer than 100 refugees each year. The federal government gives those local agencies about $2,100 for each refugee.
“The changes will consolidate smaller affiliates, reduce costs and simplify management structures to help the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program run in a way that is fiscally responsible and sustainable in the long term,” the spokeswoman said in an email.
Previously, a state agency in Kansas also helped with refugee resettlement, but then-Gov. Sam Brownback ended the state’s involvement in 2016 after saying refugees made Kansas less secure. The federal Office of Refugee Resettlement said at the time that it would work directly with private resettlement organizations and refugees would continue to come to the state.
Many refugees in western Kansas turn to Kearny County Hospital in Lakin, Kansas, for health and social services. The hospital, in turn, depends on the IRC to take care of essential services such as food, housing, education and job placement, said hospital CEO Benjamin Anderson.
“The IRC receives these families when they have nothing, when they have no coat, no shoes, in the middle of winter,” he said.
Anderson said the IRC plays the primary role for helping refugees in the area, and when the organization’s Garden City office closes, his hospital may have to take over some of its services.
Garden City is home to many refugees, including a large Somali community, which was the target of an alleged bomb plot last year. That incident and its upcoming trial in March have brought renewed attention to the city’s wide range of immigrants — a portion of whom are refugees — from Mexico, South America and Africa. In the local school district, for example, English is a second language for nearly half the students.
The IRC’s Wichita office will stay open, and the organization has said the Garden City office will help refugees find support from other offices.
Ben Kuebrich reports for High Plains Public Radio in Garden City and the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio, KCUR and HPPR covering health, education and politics. Follow him on @Ben_Kuebrich.