Refugee Services Office, Catholic Community Services support integration of refugees in Utah

Story and slideshow by BLAKE LANCASTER

When a refugee resettles in a new country, oftentimes they are in a new community with new rules, a new language and a new culture. How do they approach this challenging situation and become integrated members of American society? Organizations such as Utah’s Refugee Services Office can help with the transition.

Gerald Brown is currently an assistant director and state refugee coordinator at the Refugee Services Office, which is one of these organizations. The Refugee Services Office help refugees learn English, find and gain skills for employment and build connections with locals who can help show them the way things work in their new community.

Brown became interested in working with refugees during a year-long trip to Egypt with the YMCA where he experienced a culture with hardship unlike what we know in America. This sparked his passion for social justice. He went on the service trip expecting to help people, but when he finished he realized he learned the most.

Since his eye-opening service trip, Brown has worked in refugee agencies from Houston to New York to Cuba before becoming one of the godfathers of major Utah refugee programs.

For several years, Utah held monthly town hall meetings to discuss the state of refugee resettlement programs in Utah. In 2008, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. approved the addition of refugee services and Brown was appointed to direct and lead the new program toward success.

Brown hasn’t stopped serving refugees since then and can be credited with the efficient success the Refugee Services Offices is able to accomplish when it comes to the integration process.

“If you can accomplish integration, then you have the strongest community possible,” Brown said.

From all of his experiences, one of the things Brown has learned that he stresses is understanding the important distinction between integration and assimilation.

Integration can be defined as incorporating individuals from different groups into a society as equals. Though similar, assimilation means to adopt the ways of the new culture and fully become part of it resulting in an immense loss of cultural identity.

Danielle Stamos, public relations and marketing director for Catholic Community Services, said it is important we make it acceptable and comfortable for refugees to continue their traditions and maintain their culture.

“Not only do they preserve their culture, but they also share their culture with the community in Utah,” Stamos said. “I love when we see refugee communities creating their own events taking some of their traditions from their own countries and implementing them here.”

Catholic Community Services is another organization with programs in place to help refugees integrate into Utah. Catholic Community Services provides case managers to refugees as they are resettled in Utah who help them get on their feet. They provide them with housing, teach them the way the American system works when it comes to everyday life, help them learn the language, find them jobs, and much more.

One way Stamos suggested the everyday community member could help with integration is approaching refugees and being welcoming and friendly. If, however, you’re really feeling ambitious and eager to get involved, finding an organization that helps refugees and interests you to volunteer with can be rewarding to all parties involved.

“Once you work one-on-one with a refugee you can see daily how easy it can be to help support them in their goals and support them in maintaining their culture,” Stamos said. “There will always be a lot of fear out there of change and things that are different, but if we instead embrace it we can see how much more strong and beautiful our community and relationships can be if we share and work together.”

Nirmala Kattel provides a unique understanding of assisting the integration process of refugees as she is a refugee herself as well as an employee at the Refugee Education and Training Center.

The Refugee Education and Training Center is located at the Meadowbrook campus of Salt Lake Community College where Kattel also attends as a student. Kattel said one of the center’s most popular services utilized by refugees is help with jobs similar to Catholic Community Services, but the Education and Training Center is there to help after refugees no longer have their initial case manager.

Another popular service at the center that Kattel has noticed are the English classes. Some refugees come with very limited knowledge of the English language, which is a key hurdle for refugees to clear as once they can surpass the language barrier, it makes the rest of the steps in the integration process a little easier.

Kattel came to Utah as a refugee from Nepal in 2009 and quickly learned that isolation is another of the bigger barriers refugees face upon arrival for her and other refugees alike. She had to wait six years before the rest of her family was able to resettle in America.

“Refugees who come alone feel isolated and depressed missing their families and their past lives, so involvement and engagement in outside activities can help them through these feelings,” Kattel said.

Kattel said the elderly refugees can especially struggle with the isolation and loneliness. Since they don’t have a job or school to go to, it confines their reasons to leave their home. This seclusion can lead to difficulties with learning English and understanding the system of our community as a whole.

“The system is hard to understand at first. Refugees from almost everywhere come from somewhere with a totally different system in their countries or the refugee camps they waited in before coming here,” Kattel said.

Showing interest in refugees as a person and who they are culturally can help them with almost all of their integration barriers. Additionally, it can make them feel more comfortable in sharing their culture with their new community. Kattel said a friend with experience in the community always proves to be a valuable asset to refugees trying to make sense of their new home and sharing their cultural values.

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What happens to refugees who come to Utah?

Story and photo by BLAKE HANSEN

The trek out of danger is only the first step for refugees. Once they arrive in the U.S. it becomes difficult to navigate a new culture, utilize assets and stay afloat. Doctors and lawyers who were once able to comfortably use their education and expertise to take care of their families are left to work minimum wage and start completely over.

ResistanceColombianRefugee

A Colombian refugee living in Salt Lake City.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), “The total number is slightly greater than 1.2 million which is above 2017 levels and reflects needs from 63 countries of asylum, from both protracted and more recent refugee situations.”

While some suffering and fear for life may stop upon arrival to the U.S., refugees are faced with a new and unique set of challenges. Some have come with families to provide for, some have come alone, but one thing is always common and it is that these refugees are in a unique, new place with a new set of survival tasks. No longer can they put together tin huts, wait for UN resources to keep them alive, and exist with so many other people in their same situation.

For many refugees who haven’t had much time with the language or culture, they can sometimes find it difficult to look for employment here. Their skills, degrees, and certificates, most of the time, are invalid in the U.S. as well. It is very possible for more refugees to make it here and to flourish but without local help from individual mentorship and entity funding, it is near very difficult.

Jadee Talbot, director of refugee programs at the Granite School District on the southwest end of Salt Lake City, said, “We have had a lot of success with different programs we run here for the refugee community.” The school district manages an app called “Serve Refugees”, which provides information for after-school programs as well as other programs around the community that help refugees integrate. The district has five main community centers, one at each school, and they offer different types of classes for kids, parents and refugees in general, teaching things like computer literacy and different ESL courses as well, all free of charge.

At the Refugee Services office in Salt Lake City, many refugees are receiving help finding housing, jobs and transportation. The department and other organizations like it are helping refugees to get help with some of the essential parts of living in the U.S. but there is still much more needed to help these people integrate fully into society.

Gerald Brown is the state refugee coordinator for the Refugee Services office and he says jobs are slowly getting easier to find. But this isn’t happening without a lot of hard work from programs like the one that Brown runs which help provide refugees with employment in hotels and restaurants doing things like cleaning.

Brown went on to explain that the work they do is meant to teach the refugees how to become self reliant. Refugees are usually supported for about six to eight months before they have to be cut off from funding and assume responsibility for themselves. This time is crucial for both program administrators like Brown and the refugees receiving support to learn and develop the skills needed to prosper in the U.S.

They start to learn English if they don’t already know it, they learn about how to transport themselves, where things are, how to shop, as well as what kinds of skills they have and where they can be utilized for employment locally.

“Programs like this don’t typically do enough for the refugees, simply because the resources can only go so far. At the end of the day, a doctor from Somalia cannot practice here in the U.S. Some refugees come from such starkly different backgrounds and cultures that they don’t know how to get anywhere once they leave their apartments other than by walking. They almost always cannot make enough money to support themselves, let alone families.” Brown said.

Community members also can help refugees integrate into the Salt Lake Valley by volunteering with organizations such as the Refugee Services office. They are always looking for volunteers as well as donations of different types. Many people who cannot volunteer due to varying circumstances, who would otherwise enjoy volunteering can always donate to any of the agencies in town who help refugees to settle in and get to living a normal life and those donations are always greatly appreciated.

 

University of Utah launches Doctors Without Borders student chapter

Story and image by ANNA STUMP

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders, is an international humanitarian organization whose mission is to expand accessibility of medical care for those affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters, or exclusion from health care. These efforts include providing doctors, nurses, logistical experts, water and sanitation engineers and administrators to over 70 war-torn regions and developing countries across the globe.

Doctors Without Borders emphasizes “independence and impartiality.” The organization provides support to those in need regardless of political, religious and economic factors. Working as a private entity allows MSF to follow its own moral code and operate in any way it sees fit. Because MSF is a non-governmental organization, all of the services and operations are driven by the selfless work of volunteers.

Two of these volunteers are Julia Case and Kelsie Lee. The freshman roommates at the University of Utah are working toward bringing a student chapter to life on campus. Both women were exposed to the organization’s work at an exhibition that left them hungry to help in any way possible.

They attended MSF’s exhibition “Forced from Home,” which took place at the Salt Lake City Public Library in late September 2017. The interactive experience was designed to expose the realities of the global refugee crisis to those who attended. While walking through the exhibit, participants gained a closer look at some of the disturbing challenges faced by the 65 million asylum seekers displaced from their homes due to war and persecution.

FORCED FROM HOME

A tour guide leads participants through the exhibition and shares the hardships of traveling through the Mediterranean Sea.

During the tour, participants experienced what it would be like to gather essential belongings with dire urgency. The group had a 20-second time limit to determine which five items they would take with them on their arduous journey into the unknown. Constrained to only five items, participants were forced to decide which necessities were more crucial. For example, debating between a blanket and water or food and money. This activity gave participants a taste of what a refugee experiences while scrambling for necessities during a time of emergency.

Motivated to act

The exhibition emotionally impacted Case and Lee to the point of seeking ways they could lend their hands to MSF, despite neither of them having any medical knowledge.

“When our guide finished taking us through the exhibit, Julia and I were really eager to do something,” Lee said in an email interview. From here it gets a little blurry, but all I remember was spontaneously writing down that we wanted to start an MSF chapter at the U, and next thing I know we’re here, with the chapter expected here on campus at the beginning of next semester.” The student chapter should begin in the Spring of 2018.

MSF currently has student chapters on campuses across the country that work closely with the organization to unite students who are passionate about MSF’s mission to provide lifesaving care to those who need it most. MSF collaborates with each chapter, and provides the resources needed to plan memorable events such as fundraisers, map-a-thons, film screenings and Doctors Without Borders field staff presentations on campus.

Future goals

Both Case and Lee are hoping to hold up to four events in Spring 2018 semester. One event in particular is a “Walk 4 Water.” During this event, students will walk to raise awareness of the demand for clean drinking water in countries with limited access and help raise money to provide sterile water and drinking wells to developing countries in need.

For Kelsie Lee, fundraising walks are no foreign activity. She herself has participated in a Walk 4 Water and has helped organize a community-wide walk for charity. At the age of 10, Lee went on her first service trip to Uganda. On this trip, she witnessed the hardships faced by those who walk miles for water, struggle to find food and are exposed to sometimes fatal diseases such as malaria.

“Walking for water specifically is such a cool concept because it really puts into perspective the fact that women, men, and kids all around the world walk miles upon miles upon miles for water every day, and sometimes it’s not even clean water. When people come out and get involved in these walks, they are walking for those people,” Lee said.

The freshmen are also working toward having a field worker from MSF visit campus. The volunteer will speak with students and faculty about the organization’s current projects and share the various ways one can support refugees from home. Case is thankful for the opportunity the student chapter will present to students who want to help but have no idea where to start. “This club offers a unique experience of being part of a global organization, and we as students can help with pressing issues on the other side of the globe right from our own campus,” she said.

Both women are eager to further the reach of the MSF program through their projects at the U.

“Doctors Without Borders has been very open to allowing us to not only plan out our own ideas for fundraisers, but also giving us choices as to where the money goes. It could go anywhere from helping the refugee crisis, to medical needs, to water. The options are endless, which is why I’m so proud to get to be a part of something so awesome, that really just wants to help in any way possible,” Lee said.

 

Teaching nutrition to refugees in the Salt Lake Valley

Story and photos by ZACH CARLSON

Laureen Carlson is an employee for the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program through Utah State University’s College of Agriculture. Carlson’s goal is to help individuals and families, especially those who are lower-income, eat healthy and affordable. Carlson said EFNEP is available in every state and most territories. Carlson has been employed by EFNEP since 2013.

For the past four years Carlson has gotten to know many refugees. Most of the refugees she has worked with are Nepalese, but she has also worked with some families from Sudan and other African countries.

When asked what nutrition was like in refugee camps, Carlson said, “They would get packages that they were so appreciative for. But for example, their protein was lacking.” She also added that they would get meat packed in salt. Salt-packed meat isn’t as healthy but does last longer. “Their diet consisted mainly of rice with small amounts of vegetables,” Carlson said.

Once refugees get to Utah they can get the ingredients that they really need to be healthy and provide for their family from a nutrition standpoint. Carlson said one of the biggest problems she faces is getting refugee families to eat complete proteins. Because most families face dietary restrictions due to their religion or customs, they only will eat goat or yak — especially with the Nepalese. These also happen to be two of the more expensive meats to purchase, so many families go without the proper proteins that they need.

Carlson’s goal is for families to eat healthy, not necessarily eating like Americans. “I always try to be their facilitator using their own bread, yogurt, whatever food and spices they regularly eat,” Carlson said.

Often, she tries to combine common foods here with food or spices that refugees know and eat. Carlson said many families make their own yogurt. She will use this yogurt with fruits to make healthy smoothies. One of her other go-to foods is pizza.

She uses bread that the family makes in place of regular pizza dough. “With almost everything we add spices we wouldn’t traditionally use in American pizza. I use theirs,” she said. “They have these tin containers that have all these different spices. Some of them have even brought those when they came because they are very careful with their spices. I would have them use what spices they wanted on their pizza.”

She would then add cheese that meets their dietary standards. This is to add more dairy to their diet. “I don’t think I went into a refugee home that was getting enough dairy,” Carlson said. She added that some children do get enough dairy, because many refugee mothers nurse longer than average here. Most of the refugee families Carlson teaches breastfeed the children until they are about 3, with one family even nursing a child until he was 5.

Carlson only speaks English, so sometimes there is a language barrier in their communication. When she can, Carlson works with a Nepalese translator, Chandra Sapkota. Sapkota often asks for Carlson because he considers her to work well with the families.

Google Translate is an incredibly helpful tool for her to communicate with refugees who aren’t fluent in English when she doesn’t have Sapkota’s help. She recalls one instance where she was teaching a mother, who spoke little English, how to make tuna casserole for her daughter. By using Google Translate, Carlson could communicate by typing in what she wanted to say in English, then it was translated to the mom’s native language. Because she can’t read, Carlson would have Google Translate “speak” the translated message to her.

“You couldn’t tell her to go buy tuna fish because she wouldn’t know. I left her all the cans, everything, so that way she could go match it in the store,” she said. “So, not only did we make it together but you can’t give her a recipe. We ended up having to make it two different times so that she could go through all the steps. In hindsight, I should have had her do voice recordings on her phone,” Carlson said. This is a new technique she has begun using, where she will have refugees record the steps in recipes on their phone in their own language. This helps them re-create the meals cooked together on their own, because they can grasp the cooking concepts better.

A health and hygiene issue that Carlson faces involves proper dental care. “I never saw a grandparent or great-grandparent that had a full set of teeth. There were multiple children that their teeth had rotted and had to be pulled. That was something we would try to bring up and encourage. We really would talk about brushing teeth and things like that,” she said.

Carlson said it is uncommon for a refugee to eat out a lot and get fast food often, but she has taught some refugees who partake in American food. She taught an African refugee who was extremely excited to be here and eat American food. But then he noticed that he was gaining a lot of weight. Carlson said once he realized how much weight he was gaining he immediately stopped eating fast food and went back to the food of his culture. He began working out to lose weight and is back to where he was before he dove into American food.

Carlson said most of the families she teaches make food from their homeland. Most, if not all of them, cook their own food, typically curry, sometimes three times a day. One indulgence that she has had a problem with is soda pop. They particularly love Fanta Orange.

“There’s something about Fanta Orange,” she says. Many of the refugee families thought that Fanta had juice in it and that they were being healthy. They loved that they were drinking juice and that it tasted so good. Except it wasn’t juice. Even when she went back to visit them later after her teaching with them concluded, some families still consumed Fanta Orange very frequently.

Life is hard for everyone, refugees included. For many refugees, their trials and hardships don’t end once they get to a new country. They instead face a new set of challenges that take the place others. A big challenge that many of them face is eating properly. Through the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, Laureen Carlson helps refugees get the nutrients they need without spending unreasonable amounts of money.

 

 

Catholic Community Services remains a helping hand for those in need in Salt Lake City

Story and slideshow by HAYDEN S. MITCHELL

“All we want to do [as an organization] is help folks in our community,” said Aden Batar, immigration and refugee resettlement director at Catholic Community Services, located at 745 E. 300 South in Salt Lake City.

The primary goals of CCS are to help those in need and create hope for people who have none. According to its pledge, “Catholic Community Services of Utah has been empowering people in need to reach self-sufficiency.” CCS does this by lifting up those in the community, regardless of gender, race or religion.

In 1945, the Rev. Duane G. Hunt of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City saw there were many people in need of assistance. These folks were poor and no help was coming their way. So, with that, Hunt started an organization to contribute to his community. According to the CCS website, this organization started by creating adoption centers, poverty assistance, foster care, counseling and transit programs.

“There have always been people in need … that is way we must help if we are able to,” Batar said. “Not everyone can do it themselves, which is why organizations like this are around.”

Following 1945, Hunt’s organization continued to expand, beyond his death in 1960. It grew from a single office to four different sites and buildings that deliver social services to folks in need of help in Utah, specifically Northern Utah and the Wasatch Front. As the organization grew it strove to help more and more people in need of assistance. The Rev. Hunt’s organization joined the United Way Agency in 1951, allowing them to help more people, according to the CCS website.

The St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Shop and Soup Kitchen were opened in 1967, as an extension of the Rev. Hunt’s organization. It began providing food and clothes for the homeless, which continues to this day. Over 1,000 meals a day are served to needy Utahns at the St. Vincent de Paul Dining Hall located in 437 W. 200 South in Salt Lake City. It is a mid-day and evening meal service, according to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul,

Ethan Lane, a local high school student who has volunteered at the soup kitchen over the last couple of years, spoke very highly of the work they do, saying, “Having a reliable place to go get a nice meal is important.” Lane added, “Without this place providing the service they do, there would be a lot more hungry people here in Utah.”

That is why it is important for community organizations to continue their work by maintaining the places like the soup kitchen and increasing their reach. Poverty and hunger continue to be an issue in Utah. According to the U.S. Census, more than 10 percent of the population is living below the poverty line. That is one in every 10 people living in Utah. Add to that, Utah is ranked fourth in the United States for the highest rate of very low food security.

Not only has Hunt’s organization made efforts to help the hungry and homeless in our community but they also strive to help others in need like immigrant and refugees, says Batar. The Rev. Terence M. Moore added the refugee resettlement program to Hunt’s organization in 1974. The refugee foster care program was established the next year to assist unaccompanied minor refugees.

Shortly after the organization began assisting with refugees it added immigration services in 1981. Included in those services was aid to the disabled and the Utah Immigration Project. Both immigrants and refugees are facing a new environment but they are coming from vastly different situations. Immigrants are choosing to resettle in a new location whereas refugees are being forced to leave their homes and find a new one, according to cnn.com. Although they don’t all come from the same situations they need some of the same assistance.

“Refugees and immigrants have the same difficulties adapting … they have a hard time with the language, the weather and the feeling of being home takes a while,” Batar said. “It is important for them to understand that they have help and they are not alone in a difficult time.”

Soon after the additions of the refugee and immigration services, the organization changed its name to Catholic Community Services of Utah but the mission remained the same. According to the CCS website, that mission is “to practice gospel values of love, compassion and hope through service, support and collaboration.”

“We are a medium-sized non-profit organization that provides some great help to our community,” said Danielle Stamos, public relations and marketing director at CCS. “We will continue to expand our efforts to help in all aspects of our organization … making people’s lives easier is what we try to do.”

Stamos said CCS will continue to contribute to the needs of others by helping those weakest become strong and functioning members of the community. “Hopefully, in the future we will be able to help more people, knocking down the number of people in need,” Stamos said. That may be a harder challenge for the CCS refugee services compared to the organizations other programs. The problems come from political controversies and new policies centered on refugees. With threats of policy change and residents angry about potential safety concerns, the number of refugees getting help may be reduced.

Bradford Drake, executive director of CCS, said in a newsletter, “Even in the wake of this uncertainty, CCS continues to do what we have always done — provide help and hope to those most in need.”

Drake wanted to reassure the staff, volunteers and those who receive assistance from CCS, that the organization will continue to help refugees transition into a new country, culture and lifestyle.

Of course, any organization is only as good as their volunteers, Stamos said. Without volunteers CCS would never be able to reach its full potential. So, if you want to get involved with some volunteer work, the website lists multiple opportunities. One can volunteer to assist refugees, or monetary donations are always welcome.

With all the challenges facing people today, it’s nice for people to know a resource like Catholic Community services is available to assist them.

 

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How the Refugee Services Office fights discrimination and empowers refugee women

Story and gallery by ALAYNIA WINTER

Approximately 60,000 refugees from all over the world live here in Utah. Unlike other traditionally red states, Republican Gov. Gary Herbert has openly pledged to keep Utah’s doors open to refugees. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reports at least 50 percent of refugee populations are women and girls. This means there are somewhere around 30,000 resettled women and girls attempting to pick up their lives and integrate into Utah’s society.

Women are especially vulnerable to violence when displaced or during times of war during the process of migration. According to a report by Amnesty International, women in refugee camps are raped every day while collecting water. This is just one example of the incredible hardships women face during the resettlement process. Gerald Brown, assistant director for the Refugee Services Office, said, “Five to six years ago, we realized women needed more resources. Just more.”

The Refugee Services Office (RSO), a division of Utah’s Department of Workforce Services, is a government organization filled with individuals working hard to improve the lives of refugees by assisting in finding employment, providing mental health services, and much more.

As a government organization, Refugee Services Office can’t have a volunteer program. Programs are primarily supported through the Know Your Neighbor program through the city mayor’s office. This program is very supportive, said Halima Hussein, a Somalian refugee herself and women’s refugee coordinator for RSO.

“There is always a need for more programming,” Brown said. Whether it’s funding for more women’s programs, or daily and after-school programs, help from the community is always appreciated. RSO has workshops available such as: family planning, domestic violence and sewing classes. Anyone is welcome to participate.

Issues facing women are often serious, ranging from domestic violence to public harassment stemming from antipathy to facial coverings. “If they go to the bathroom, or try to get on TRAX and someone is yelling at them — and it happens in any of those public spaces — we have [a safety escort] specifically assigned who walks with the refugee community,” said Hussein, referring to resources RSO offers to refugees when faced with abuse or harassment. She puts her hand down on the table with conviction. “But for Utah, I think compared to any other place it’s been better. I think it’s been better for our community. The community around us has been extremely supportive, including the LDS church.”

Despite the occasional incident, Hussein maintains Utah is a welcoming community. She warmly shares a story of a Utah family and a Somalian family who have become dear friends through the Know Your Neighbor Program.

There are a variety of resources available to refugees who experience discrimination or abuse. “We have a lot of mental health patients in the community, because of the trauma. And some people cope better than others,” Hussein said. “We are very big on therapy and medication — that kind of thing. We have social workers and therapists in the office who work very closely with domestic violence, sexual abuse, discrimination and gender identity issues.”

Hussein is highly respected, Brown said, and many women feel comfortable speaking to either her or Asha Parekh, the organization’s director. However, the caseload is large and Hussein is often stretched thin. “Halima is one of the few resources we have for these women,” Brown said.

In addition to struggling with roadblocks such as language and cultural barriers or not having a car, female refugees also face additional hindrances stemming from lack of equal opportunities and sociocultural factors. Such opposition can substantially hinder establishing friendships and support systems, which can lead to unhealthy alienation, depression and loneliness.

Due to a lack of trusted confidants and support systems, women refugees often struggle with having limited resources in talking about certain sensitive, yet vital topics. Brown said, women are often not comfortable discussing complex family issues, physical or sexual abuse, or hygiene issues in front of men and the organization needs Utah women to be involved.

The Refugee Services Office is committed to empowering women by also strengthening their families. Alexx Goeller, youth services coordinator for RSO, works directly with Utah school districts to help refugee families to know their rights and facilitate success in refugee children’s education.

Refugee women frequently struggle to communicate with their children and with the education system after resettling here in Utah. Goeller said, “Often families will know a kid is acting out and don’t know why and when we hear about things like this, we will facilitate a meeting with a translator.” Schools are legally mandated to communicate with parents in their native language, she said. RSO works diligently to partner with translation services and companies. Sending home letters to parents in their native languages is the school’s responsibility.

“It is costly for school and some schools are better than others,” Goeller said. “It’s important that schools are cognizant that New American families have different needs. It’s not that they don’t want to be involved, often they just don’t have the resources to now how.”

In many instances, refugee children’s parents aren’t able to communicate with the teachers, Halima said. The language barrier is much easier to overcome for children than for adults.

“For women to have stronger families, we really need to work with their kids especially because school is so hard for them” Hussein said. “Some will drop out and go to wrong places. The school system here is according to age and you cannot put a child who studies from kindergarten here and has had all the privileges from the school system in the same level.”

The Utah State Board of Education has been a huge support as far as letting families know their rights when it comes to education, said Goeller. The Utah Education Network (UEN) has a website that is designed for supporting refugees and Utahns in finding resources for education.  There are also parent resources specifically for refugee parents, such as translations in 30 languages.

“We see a lot of kids that get really discouraged because they can’t catch up in school or can’t learn English fast enough. We see these kids getting involved in gangs, or substance abuse,” Goeller said. “When we hear about these situations we have social workers visit the families and become involved.”

Despite the many barriers and setbacks refugees face, Hussein firmly believes in the perseverance and resilience of refugees. She has seen many positive changes and is hopeful for the future.

Looking forward, Halima hopes to see thriving, self-sufficient communities. She believes a more personalized and collaborative approach would empower communities to better serve members who are struggling.

“There are 17 communities, each with a woman leader. … So, my dream is to see each community apply for grants and do their own thing,” Hussein said. “And each community can work on something they need specifically. Maybe one community needs to focus on health issues. They can start their own programs — community-based programs. That’s my dream.”

Hussein encourages Utahns to dig deeper and to build friendships with communities that may be different from the mainstream population. “Some people see refugees, but don’t really know them. Many people are surprised by what they find.”

To get involved, read about opportunities to work with refugees in Salt Lake City.

 

 

No escape from danger: LGBT refugees fled to Kakuma Camp for their lives, only to be greeted with hostility

Story by KAYA DANAE

Photos by MBAZIRA MOSES and KAYA DANAE

Homophobia is pervasive in Kenya, and some LGBT refugees at Kakuma Camp say they have faced discrimination from fellow refugees and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) workers that has exacerbated living conditions in the overcrowded facility.

Mbazira Moses, a gay refugee currently living at the Kakuma Camp, said in an email interview, “I have been exposed to persecution and hostility ever since the time I arrived in Kakuma.”

Moses was assaulted and stabbed by a fellow refugee on Oct. 11, 2017. After reporting the incident to the police, Moses said nothing was done.

He claims he has been assaulted several times, but said police have never investigated. Instead of receiving help, Moses was jailed along with 18 other LGBT refugees who had peacefully protested their unfair treatment at UNHCR headquarters in Nairobi.

LGBT refugees peacefully protest at the UNHCR Headquarters in Nairobi.

After speaking with a lawyer, Moses was told to accept whatever charges were filed against him, as this was the only way he could expect assistance from UNHCR.

Established in 1992, Kakuma Camp is located in the northwestern region of Kenya. Ethiopian, Sudanese and Somali refugees fled their war-torn countries and came to Kakuma refugee camp, which is divided into four zones.

With an influx of new arrivals in 2014, Kakuma surpassed its capacity by over 58,000 individuals. The camp has expanded and currently holds 77,092 refugees, according to the UNHCR Kakuma informational pamphlet.

Moses said many of the staff at Kakuma Camp are homophobic and view the LGBT community as cursed. Individuals are not given the same opportunities as other refugees. They are not employable because of their sexual orientation and are not given proper medical treatment. Many medical centers refuse to serve them at all, he said, and if they are treated, they are often refused medication and treatment for HIV.

Moses Mbazira holds the LGBT flag in his tent at Kakuma Camp.

According to Moses and many other LGBT refugees living at Kakuma Camp, they face eviction due to homophobic neighbors, leaving them homeless in the camp. UNHCR has placed the LGBT community in a housing section next to the river, where they face flooding and mosquitoes. Many of the refugees have malaria and are not given the treatment they need. The homes themselves are just tents, not properly covered to protect from the rain.

Thirteen UNHCR employees stationed at Kakuma Camp were contacted about Moses’ allegations of mistreatment toward LGBT refugees in the camp. Only four responded, and they said they could not comment.

“Agony has brought action,” Moses said. “Many of the LGBT members who have been granted asylum and refugee status under UNHCR within Kenya, receive consistent persecutions and grief by the host community and other members living within the camp. We (LGBT Community) have articulated our concerns to UNHCR but have been overlooked. This has caused a need to call on UNHCR to permit us a convention letter that will grant us a fair free movement to seek asylum in a country where we reserve the same rights as other refugees regardless of our sexual orientation.”

Barnabas Wobilaya, 36, is a gay Ugandan refugee and HIV/AIDS activist who was resettled in Salt Lake City. He fled Uganda and arrived in Nairobi, Kenya, in January 2015. Wobilaya became an HIV/AIDS activist in Uganda because he had two siblings who lost their lives to HIV. Because of his activism, he was exposed as a gay man in the newspapers, lost his job, and had to move around a lot for his own safety.

“When you get to Kakuma, there is no housing. You arrive at the camp, and they give you land. You build your own house. They give you poles and a tent to put up yourself, some people use iron sheets for their roof,” Wobilaya said.

“The LGBT people are always the last people to get the services they need, always,” he said.

“Their cases are not being worked on. They have been there for years. Three years, five years. Cases of LGBT refugees are supposed to be fast because their need is so immediate. We suffer. I know people that have been in Kakuma since I arrived in Kenya that have still never seen their files. They don’t know what’s going on. Nothing happens.”

The resettlement process is in the hands of the Government of Kenya. Because Kenya still maintains largely homophobic outlooks  and policies, many LGBT folk are treated as criminals rather than asylum seekers and refugees.

“When I was in Kenya, I could not find a job,” Wobilaya said. “Kenyans know that many refugees from Uganda are gay. They are very homophobic. You go to the store to buy something, and they say ‘Uganda?’ and then they kick you out. You cannot buy things, if you can’t speak Swahili they will not give you service. They then say ‘these are gays’ in Swahili and you know to leave or else you will be beaten.”

LGBT refugees attempt to drain the water from the river that flooded their tent in Kakuma Camp.

Wobilaya was evicted from homes three times because his landlords discovered his sexual orientation. Many LGBT people are forced to live in Kakuma because landlords refuse to rent to them in Nairobi.

The UNHCR used to give refugees a stipend of 6,000 Kenyan shillings, which is about $60 U.S. per month. With that, they were supposed to pay their rent, medical bills, transportation cost and phone bill.

“Today they give them $45, but you have to pass an assessment that your living conditions are horrible, many people have to live in one room, a lot end up on the streets as sex workers so they can afford to live,” Wobilaya said.

“Now that I am in the States it is difficult to find ways to help. They tell me ‘we are dying’ and I can’t do much. After I pay my rent and bills I send my leftover money to my LGBT friends in Kenya. So I ask, let us help these people. Let’s fundraise. Help them to buy food,” Wobilaya said.

At Kakuma camp, World Food Program ( WFP) in partnership with UNHCR provides food distribution (maize, peas, flour, cooking oil, soap, salt, porridge) and some essential items like soap and toothpaste to every refugee within the camp.

However, the food supply has been continually decreasing, Wobilaya said, leaving LGBT refugees at a disadvantage since they are unable to find work and buy their own food. UNHCR has not created a system to notify LGBT members about their case progress levels, and they feel they cannot turn anywhere for support.

Wobilaya encourages the  LGBTQ community in Utah to help. “We in the LGBT community are one big family, so advocate for your brothers and sisters; that’s the only thing I ask.”

You can contact Tayyar Sukru Cansizoglu, the UNHCR head of sub-office in Kakuma, at cansizog@unhcr.org and you can donate to the LGBT Kakuma refugee community through a fundraiser established by a Salt Lake City LGBT activist.