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Whatcom County prepares to welcome refugees

World Relief got the State Department’s approval to open an office in Whatcom County, planning on resettling 75 refugees there in the coming year

Whatcom County World Relief resettlement manager Steven Shetterly (middle) poses for a picture with a group of volunteers. With a new office in Whatcom County, World Relief will be welcoming refugees in the coming months. // Photo courtesy of Steven Shetterly

The State Department has recently approved World Relief, a global Christian humanitarian organization, to open an office in Whatcom County. They plan to begin resettling refugees in November. 

With the goal of resettling 75 people in the coming year, Whatcom County is expecting to welcome 15 refugees by the end of 2021. 

Steven Shetterly, World Relief resettlement manager, is leading this project in Whatcom County and has been working closely with the community in preparation for resettlement. 

“The smaller nature of the community in Bellingham is going to be helpful in some ways; I think very quickly the whole community is going to realize this is happening,” Shetterly said. “Even now with the limited media exposure, we’ve had people coming out of the woodwork offering jobs, housing, to volunteer, buying goods and donations, so I think it more quickly becomes a whole community-wide effort.” 

As the only World Relief employee in Whatcom County right now, Shetterly has had help from volunteers in this process. 

Whatcom County Executive Satpal Sidhu said his office has received positive and welcoming responses from the community.

“Whatcom County has a tradition of helping new immigrants and refugees in the recent past, Sidhu said in an email. “We will continue this tradition and welcome newcomers in our community with open arms.” 

U.S. Representatives Rick Larsen and Suzan DelBene have advocated for the project. They asked the Secretary of State for consideration of the application for Whatcom County, noting that World Relief is the largest resettlement organization in Washington state.

“Bellingham and its surrounding Whatcom County have capacity to settle refugees but currently lack the necessary caseworkers. Opening an office in Bellingham would supply the necessary caseworkers and allow an estimated 75 to 100 refugees to be permanently resettled in Whatcom County each year,” Rep. Larsen and Rep. DelBene said in a letter addressed to the Secretary of State on Sept. 7, 2021.

Shetterly said there is a moral obligation for communities, with the resources to do so, to provide support and aid during the current generational refugee crisis.

“Whether coming from Afghanistan or other countries in crisis, immigrants and refugees are all looking for a better life and the opportunity to provide for themselves and their families,” Larsen said in an email. “I commend the State Department for enabling World Relief to open a resettlement office in Whatcom County and look forward to welcoming immigrants and refugees with open arms to Northwest Washington.”

With the vast amount of community support, Shetterly said he is hopeful for what is to come in the future with this new World Relief office.

“As you look across the country at places where refugee resettlement has happened, it’s  something that always enriches the community,” Shetterly said. “I think we’ll only be able to look back in 20, 30 years and see, right now I can’t predict everything that it is going to mean, but I do think it is going to be a lot of positive stuff.”


Bella Neff

Bella Neff (she/her) is a third-year student studying journalism and political science, and reporting on city news. You can reach her at bellaneff.thefront@gmail.com


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