March 2012 (St. Louis, MO) – Earlier this month, the International Institute of St. Louis sponsored its 20,000th refugee. It is a milestone for the Institute as well as for St. Louis, a region that is more dependent than others on refugee arrivals to supplement our smaller than average immigrant base. While a few Vietnamese were resettled in St. Louis by the Institute and local religious affiliates after the Fall of Saigon in 1975, substantial numbers did not start to arrive until spring of 1979. Then President Jimmy Carter launched a special resettlement program for Vietnamese Boat People resulting in more than 120,000 US arrivals in a
mere 12 months.
That program was followed in the 1980s by a special Amerasian Resettlement Program for children of US soldiers and Vietnamese mothers. Then, in the 1990s, large numbers of former Vietnamese re-education camp internees were relocated to St. Louis. In all, Vietnamese refugees represent approximately 20% of the Institute’s total sponsorships to date.
“Out-migration was huge among the early Vietnamese arrivals,” said Anna Crosslin, Institute President & CEO for more than 30 years. “Dozens of families would leave for California and Texas each time the snow fell!” It was the opposite case for the Bosnian refugees that the Institute resettled between 1993 and 2001. Crosslin notes that while the Institute sponsored about 6,700 directly to St. Louis, the Bosnian community has eventually grown to 70,000, including American-born children.
“Thousands of Bosnians migrated to St. Louis from other parts of the US because we had jobs they could do and houses they could afford,” Crosslin said. “St. Louis is now arguably the largest Bosnian ‘city’ outside of Bosnia.”
The past 30 years of refugee resettlement has included a wide variety of refugees from many continents of the world. The following chart highlights some of the major groups resettled by the Institute:
Middle Eastern & Near Asian 2,505
Other – African 1,793
Other – Asian 1,954
Other – E. European & Russian 904
Other – Latin American 433
Other – (Unassigned) 521
“Resettling refugees has really been a community effort,” said Crosslin. “While we served as initial sponsors, hundreds of organizations and thousands of volunteers have worked to ease the transition of these newcomers.” Today, the International Institute continues to resettle refugees as a part of its mission to help immigrants and their families become productive Americans and champion ethnic diversity as a cultural and economic strength. To that end, the Institute offers a wide range of programs arranged in three pillars of service: Immersion, Investment and Inclusion. Annually, more than 7,000 immigrants from 75 countries learn English, find jobs, receive counseling, and start businesses with help from the Institute. Our annual Festival of Nations, this year scheduled for August 25 and 26, is among our region’s most popular summer events, drawing 140,000 from more than 100 zip codes.