- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 23, 2015

TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) - Officials who aid refugees say they want to replace fears with facts in south-central Idaho after seeing a rise in opposition to the efforts of a local refugee center.

The Times-News newspaper hosted a forum Tuesday to talk about the refugee process and reported (https://bit.ly/1VaKiMc ) that it attracted more than 700 people.

Twin Falls is home to one of the handful of agencies that coordinate refugee resettlement services in Idaho.

However, the program - which has been in the community since the 1980s - has received an increasing amount of criticism over the past few months as more people became aware that some Syrian refugees would likely be among those resettled in Twin Falls starting Oct. 1.

A small opposition group has launched an initiative to get a measure on the ballot that would ban refugee centers in Twin Falls County. While the county attorney has found legal problems with the initiative, the group has stood by its mission.

“This is propaganda,” one man yelled during Tuesday’s event while one of the panelists quipped that he wanted to see the empty seats filled with refugees. Supporters of refugee resettlement also called out their unhappiness when officials answered questions about the refugees’ religion.

“Does it matter?” one woman screamed from the crowd.

Larry Bartlett, director of the Office of Refugee Admissions at the U.S. State Department, came to the forum from Washington, D.C., and said the refugee vetting process can take up to two years to ensure safety, including probes from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“They’re not terrorists,” Bartlett said of the Syrians coming to the United States. “They are people fleeing terrorism.”

ZeZe Rwasama, the director of the Twin Falls refugee center and himself a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, added that refugees are expected to get jobs and support themselves quickly. While refugees’ rent and utilities are covered for four months, the average refugee is employed within two months of resettling in America.

“They have to find a job early on to help them start paying the rent,” he said.

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Information from: The Times-News, https://www.magicvalley.com

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