Bosnian success in St. Louis may signal a bright future for Afghan refugees

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The Bevo Mill restaurant, as seen in 2009. (Erik Lunsford, St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – The successful Bosnian resettlement program in the 1990s remains a shining example of St. Louis City and County’s ability to absorb refugees. The estimated 70,000 Muslim immigrants fleeing civil war arrived in the St. Louis area and became an important part of the community.

City leaders looking to revitalize neighborhoods stagnating from a population decline welcomed the foreigners. The Bosnians settled in south St. Louis and helped the area recover. They welcomed others who had resettled in other parts of the US to move to the growing community.

The Bevo Mill neighborhood became known as Little Bosnia after the refugees opened many restaurants and businesses in the area. Many of them provided a taste of home. But, crime and education would become a factor in the community’s future in the city.

The St. Louis School District was unaccredited in 2007 before earning provisional accreditation in 2012. The city is also known for having one of the highest murder rates in the nation. The brutal killing of a Bosnian immigrant in 2014 rocked the community.

You will now find a lot of Mexican restaurants in the Bevo Mill neighborhood. It is still a place for immigrant communities to call home and many Bosnians still live there.

Now, much of the Bosnian community has moved further south into St. Louis County. Their new home has access to better schools and less crime.

New refugees coming to St. Louis would likely become productive members of the community in a matter of months and not years. The International Institute of St. Louis is the region’s largest refugee resettlement agency. They helped with the effort to integrate the Bosnian community into Missouri and plan to help Afghans resettle in the area. They have also been active in resettling communities coming from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia.

The organization has been serving the area for 100 years. Nearly 1,000 volunteers and 90 staff members help offer classes in English, citizenship, and career path development. They also offer assistance with job placement, small business development, and loan programs

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