Mormon church lends help to refugees

by BRETT PERFILI

Every year people throughout the world come  to the United States for something better, whether it’s opportunity, a place to live or lifestyle. Some of these people are refugees who have fled from their native countries to seek better chances in their lives.

According to the United States Department of State a refugee is a person that may be fleeing from their country to get away from war or persecution on account of race, religion, or nationality.

A refugee must first go through the requirement process to get into the United States. The process is not a short task. It can take foreigners years to gain permission to get into the United States, said Patrick Poulin, resettlement director of the International Rescue Committee in Salt Lake City.

Typically, refugees making the jump to the United States ride a bumpy road to success.

Elissa McConkie, resettlement operations officer for IRC, said over a telephone conversation, they usually can’t speak English. They are typically poor and most likely have little working experience. 

Seventeen IRC locations stretch across the United States. The Utah location at 231 East and 400 S. receives major help from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which takes a heavy load off for the organization.

“There are several levels of support from the LDS church,” McConkie said. “If we didn’t have support from the LDS church our job would be much more difficult. It contributes so much.”

IRC takes in refugees and attempts to start the newcomers on the right foot throughout the first few months of their stay. The agency makes the arrangements allowing the refugees to obtain food, jobs and shelter. Staff members and volunteers contribute to the committee by helping make these necessary accommodations, and by personally working with the refugees.

Every year fluctuates on the amount of refugees from countries around the world coming into Utah. McConkie estimates there are approximately 900 that come to Utah a year. Out of those, 450 come through IRC. Catholic Community Services, a different agency located in Salt Lake City assisting refugees, receives the rest.

McConkie said the money from the government is not sufficient for what the refuges need. The federal government gives the IRC $425 for each refugee who comes in.

“That is not a lot of money,” McConkie said. “It [the church] helps us stay within our budget.”

The church grants vouchers to the refugees to Deseret Industries. The vouchers go directly to the newcomers so they can go shop themselves, McConkie said. Most of them are not used to Utah’s weather, thus, with these vouchers they can make sure they are seasonally prepared.           

“We would be purchasing these items if it wasn’t for the church,” McConkie said.

The government requires that refugees contain certain necessities in their homes, such as hygiene and basic foods. The church provides these products at cheaper costs through theWelfare Square mini store, which offers these certain goods at cheaper costs.

Most importantly, the LDS church offers jobs to the refugees through Deseret Industries stores, the LDS Humanitarian Center and the manufacturing center.

“They get a sense of work,” said Poulin, IRC’s resettlement director. “It’s a great opportunity.”

When the refugees begin work, they learn a trade they can take with them when they move on. The employment received for the refugees through the church is not permanent. It lasts only a few months. They are being trained.

Not only do they receive working experience, but are assigned a mentor that works with them. The mentor follows up with the individual once the training is over.

“Our goal is for everyone in our training to have a mentor,” said John Yancey, LDS Humanitarian Center assistant manager, during a telephone conversation. “That person is not only helping to look for jobs after training here, but housing and other things in life.”  

McConkie said the church hires people on a monthly basis, but it does depend on the time of year. She also said the training grounds for the refugees are very supportive environments.

“They can learn what’s expected of them,” McConkie said. “They are so excited to be working.”

A certain goal the IRC wants to achieve is not to see refugees return once they have gone through the program.

“When a refugee gets a job we don’t hear from them as much because they don’t need us as much,” McConkie said.  

And for the refugee’s sake this can happen more often than not due to the support from the LDS church.