The refugee experience: Integrating into American society

Story and photo by BLAKE HANSEN

Outside the Catholic Community Services building, refugees and others sit, waiting for help.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has reported in its “Projected Global Resettlement Needs 2017” that the number of people in need of resettlement for the calendar year will surpass 1.19 million. This number is the equivalent of the number of residents inside of Salt Lake, Davis and Weber counties. The number of refugees in desperate need of relocation equals the same number of people who reside from Draper all the way through Ogden, a distance of about 60 miles.

Many refugees who have been granted relocation to America, specifically to Utah, have a hard time integrating into a vastly different society. But with help of local organizations it is possible to successfully integrate.

The trek out of danger is only the first step for refugees, though. According to various statements made by refugees in an article by The Independent, they arrive in these safe zones. Some are injured, starved, alone, scared and all have suffered extreme loss. They settle in refugee camps where conditions are horrible.

The process to get resettled somewhere can take years, according to the UNHCR. Some people spend the rest of their lives in refugee camps because the lengthy and intense resettlement process can’t even handle the amount of people left without a country to call home. Kids who grow up in these refugee camps have little to no access to education. Doctors and lawyers who were once able to comfortably use their education and expertise to take care of their families are left building their families tin huts just to stay dry. Also, 51 percent of refugees are under 18. Many have narrowly escaped, and are without parents or siblings.

Aden Batar left Somalia with a law degree and with two of his brothers in the late 1980s. At a time when civil war took over the country, Batar and his brothers had no choice but to leave. They had to lie and disguise themselves as members of other tribes and factions just to make it past checkpoints where people were being shot and killed for trying to flee. Batar made it to Kenya alone after one of his brothers was killed for being found at a checkpoint and the other died from a sickness he got during their trek.

“Looking back, I don’t know how I did it,” he said. Batar lived in a refugee camp in Kenya and met his future wife there before finally making it to Utah in 1994. He was lucky enough to have a brother in Logan who helped with his resettlement. Batar is now the director of immigration and refugee resettlement at Catholic Community Services in Salt Lake City where refugees are helped and given the tools they need to integrate.

Atem Aleu escaped from Sudan in 1987. Similarly to Batar, Aleu also fled his country with two brothers. After a lengthy trek between multiple countries, Aleu eventually ended up in Kenya in 1992 with one brother after the other died during their trek. Aleu was 8 years old. Eventually though, after years of suffering through surviving with little food and water, none at times, Aleu made it to the U.S.

“We need to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Judgement happens a lot here, people think that because you’re a refugee, you’re some sort of lower person,” Aleu said. He said his organization, which he declined to name, .helps refugees locally in Utah. “Without these organizations in place there is no one to talk to and nowhere to go for help finding jobs, transportation, appropriate housing, etc.,” he said.

Integration is a difficult and lengthy process for refugees after they have already gone through so much just to get here to the U.S. The local organizations in Utah are always looking for volunteers to help in a variety of ways. Some options include mentorship and job placement. Batar also stressed the importance of overall friendly interactions to show a welcome, safe environment where refugees are able to flourish in a new place with opportunity.


University of Utah’s Center for Research on Migration and Refugee Integration builds on success of first year

Story and photos by ZACH CARLSON

The Center for Research on Migration and Refugee Integration is housed in the University of Utah’s College of Social Work. The CRMRI is located in Caren Frost’s office.

The Center for Research on Migration and Refugee Integration opened as part of the College of Social Work at the University of Utah in 2016. Leading this center is Dr. Caren Frost. The CRMRI’s main focus is on obtaining federal grants and analyzing data that it receives from groups like the Catholic Community Services and the International Rescue Committee.

Aden Batar is himself a refugee who works with the Catholic Community Services in Salt Lake City, helping to resettle refugees. With roughly 60,000 refugees here in Utah and hundred more coming each year, these two organizations are working together to help make Salt Lake City home for refugees from around the world.

Each year, the CCS helps resettle roughly 400 to 500 refugees, according to Batar. These refugees are from all over the world, with 53 percent of them migrating or hailing from Afghanistan, Somalia and Syria. Batar says he expects the Syrian Civil War to lead to an influx of Syrian refugees, making Syria the largest source of refugees in the coming years.

As the individuals integrate into Salt Lake City, they obtain education as well as work. Batar says that about 85 percent of refugees become self-sufficient within six months of arriving in Utah. While most parents don’t pursue a higher education once arriving, their children are more likely to go to college, says Caren Frost of the CRMRI.

No information is collected on how many refugees go to the U, but the CRMRI estimates that there are at least 500 students with refugee backgrounds. The CRMRI describe itself as active with students on campus, but it thinks it can always be more involved. It finds itself interacting more with younger children in junior high and high schools, Frost says.

Over the summer of 2017, the CRMRI hosted a workshop at the U for about 25 high school seniors from the Salt Lake Valley who were interested in college. Delva Hommes, the administrative manager for CRMRI, says it had a broad range of students, with some having been in America from two months to two years. The students spoke about a dozen different languages.

Students who attended the summer workshop. Photo courtesy of Delva Hommes.

Volunteers discussed with the students what different aspects of college and campus life are like at the U, why they think the students should go there, and how to help them achieve their goals. The CRMRI hopes to do similar workshops every summer, Frost says.

Frost writes grants and articles, and analyzes data for the CRMRI. “We have information about what country the refugees are coming from, how long they were in camps, what languages they speak, what are their healthcare needs,” Frost says. “We also have information about jobs that they have once they get here, how much they’re getting paid per hour, what other training needs they might have.”

CRMRI celebrated its first year at the U in August 2017. Frost described the program’s first year as “fact finding,” citing repetitive redundancy, also known as tautology where the same idea is said twice but with different words, as an issue that it deals with often. Because it is trying to put people in touch with others, she says it can sometimes be a challenge to coordinate and work with everyone’s schedules.

The hallway leading to the CRMRI, which is on the second floor of the College of Social Work.

The research center has three main goals for its second year. First, Frost says “working to define integration. This isn’t just trying to get refugees to assimilate,” she says, “but to encourage a two-way exchange of ideas about different values, different cultural systems, between refugees and those hosting them.”

Her second goal for the center is to create a geospatial map of the Salt Lake Valley. An earlier draft of this was created for the Refugee Women’s Committee, which Frost has chaired for more than five years, she said in a subsequent email interview. This map pinpoints where these women lived in the Valley, the public transportation routes near them, where libraries are and where they can go to get health and dental care.

With this, researchers can see where people are versus the resources individuals need. Frost says these women are in a sort of “resource desert.” The medical care they need is far away, and in case of an emergency those without vehicles might not get the necessary medical attention, Frost says. Frost is looking to further enhance this project by working with individuals within the Department of Geography and with the Social Research Institute, to try to make something useful with this information.

The Center’s final goal of 2017-18 is trying to get more community partners to help the program and do research with it. The CRMRI is constantly learning from its partners, like the Catholic Community Services and International Rescue Committee, about each group’s on-the-ground work, Frost said in a subsequent email interview. It would really like “to be doing more cross-cutting discussions about what research actually is, what we can actually say with things, what kind of data do we actually need,” Frost says.


Community remains in the heart of Salt Lake City refugees

Story and photo by HAYDEN S. MITCHELL

All over the world refugees are fleeing their homes from violence, oppression and fear. These families are all looking for a new place to live where they can feel safe. In 2016, Utah became home to a little over 1,200 refugees from multiple countries: Iraq, Iran, the Congo, Somalia and Sudan. The New Americans are experiencing the shock and awe of a new country and culture, places that are vastly different than anything they had ever seen before, according to a PBS story.

When first coming to Utah, refugees have a variety of feelings and emotions ranging from exhilaration to fear. Two individuals, Aden Batar and Romeil Analjok, who have resettled in Utah, discussed how similar their experiences were. They were introduced to a different language, new environments, foreign foods and smells. Add to that, they said the residents of Salt Lake City dressed and acted differently than they had seen before in their home countries. This can create an overwhelming burden for any refugee.


Romeil Analjok, holding a trophy his daughter won playing basketball. Sports helped the family feel like a part of the community.

“It’s America man, of course it is going to be crazy. I did not know what to expect when my family first came here,” said Romeil Analjok, a refugee from Sudan, who created a new home for himself and his family in Utah in 2004. “Language was the biggest problem along with not knowing anybody … so I enrolled in school hoping to learn English and meet new people.”

While at school, Analjok met a couple of people whom he remains friends with today. He was grateful that they interacted with him during his first few days in class. He did not know how they would talk to him or act around him, but they treated him like everyone else, with respect. Analjok appreciated how quickly he made friends. It made the transition from Sudan to Utah easy and encouraged him that he could create a home for his family and be a part of a community once again.

“Romiel’s story is common for many [who are] moving their families,” said Francis Mannion, a priest who has seen an increase in refugee parishioners within his parish. They need somewhere to start.

For this reason, there are organizations like the International Rescue Committee or Catholic Community Services that will help new arrivals. These groups are in place to assist with the transition and make an adjustment easier for refugees coming to the United States.

In addition to established organizations, becoming part of an open and caring community is vital to helping families transition into a new community. Community allows refugees to make new friends, participate in all sorts of activities, or even worship together. Mannion made it clear that faith is not the predominant force that makes it easier for those going through the refugee process — it is community. A community can hold people up when they struggle the most.

“Every week in Sudan, we gathered with our friends and family, just celebrating everything good we had in life,” Analjok said. “I was happy to be a part of something every week … it gave me something to look forward to.”

Analjok said he felt out of sorts until he found a stable, welcoming community. He treasures it. In his community were fellow refugees from the Sudan who generously donated their time to helping him find friends and a new church, Saint Patrick’s, located at 1058 W. 400 South in Salt Lake City. Becoming involved with this church allowed Analjok some networking in the business world, eventually leading to a new job opportunity.

He said finding a new community can be a lifesaver for refugees. Without this connection, families and individuals can sometimes feel like they are on their own. Typically the countries that these refugees are coming from have a strong sense of community. They must rely on each other significantly to survive, eat and exist. This is why it can be such a challenge for refugees in America because it is solely their responsibility to provide for themselves and their families.

“Having a strong, loyal community around you will always make everything easier in life,” said Mannion, pastor at St. Vincent de Paul. “As refugee families come to church through the years, you can see the change happen. They start off nervous and still, and gradually became an active member of the community.”

Aden Batar, immigration and refugee resettlement director with Catholic Community Services, said refugees can have a hard time adjusting because they are coming from a life we have very little knowledge of. Life in countries like Iran, Sudan and Somalia is not easy. Batar, a refugee from Somalia who now helps other refugees in the resettlement process, said it is a real struggle every day for people living there to provide for their families and keep them safe. He said families are forced to flee because they are being oppressed or they fear potential threat and violence. Batar added that most people never anticipate leaving their home and are not prepared when it happens.

Such disruption can negatively impact people and even cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in many individuals, Batar said.

Analjok said, “When we came to Utah we were welcomed by a lot of refugees who came here before us.”  He reiterated the importance of community to his family’s resettlement. “They made me very comfortable and treated me well. It was also nice to see them all doing well,” he said. “It gave me hope for me and my family.”

Catholic Community Services helps refugees in Utah


Approximately 1,000 Asian refugees take solace in Utah every year, according to the State of Utah Refugee Office. Most of these refugees come from Third World Countries, and have lived in refugee camps for the majority of their lives.

The majority of these people were driven from their homes because they did not support the ruling class that was currently in power. Some refugees are from the formal ruling class and ended up living in camps because their group was thrown from power, said Linda Oda, the director of Asian Affairs in Utah.

According to the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual, all refugees go through a several year process before being allowed to come live in the U.S. This process involves the work of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Department of State’s Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration.

It usually takes about three to four generations for a refugee family to become in tune with the American way, Oda said. This transition involves learning English, taking life skills classes, learning American culture and establishing a life in the U.S.

Since 1945, the Catholic Community Services of Utah, has been helping refugee families throughout the first year of their lives in Utah.

“Utah is considered a welcoming state because we have organizations that truly advocate refugees,” Oda said.

When a refugee is relocated to Utah, their case is assigned to CCS or the International Rescue Committee. CCS and IRC are the only two agencies in the state of Utah that are allowed to handle refugee resettlements, said Rebecca Van Maren, the former assistant volunteer coordinator for CCS who also worked with Bhutanese refugees.

CCS’s work begins before the refugee or their family arrives in Utah. CCS finds out information about the family to arrange housing for the family. This information involves knowing the number of people within the family, and if they have any children, knowing the ages and gender of the children. CCS makes sure that the house is ready for the family to move in upon arrival, including fully furnishing the entire house, Van Maren said.

Van Maren said when refugees arrive, CCS sends a case manager to greet them at the airport. From the airport, the case manager then helps the refugee and their family get settled into their new housing. The refugee’s case manager’s job is to help the refugee and their family adapt to American life, and are available for the first year that the refugee is living in the U.S.

“Their case manager is primarily the person who is explaining the services that CCS provides,” Van Maren said.

CCS’s goal is to help the refugees and their families reach a state of self-sufficiency in Utah. This goal is achieved through taking classes, creating a stable life within the community and with the help of their case manager. A case manager’s help can range from signing the refugee up for classes, to explaining how to shop at a grocery store.

One of the biggest difficulties that refugees face is not being able to speak or understand English. CCS can find education classes that teach people who are 90 years old, down to small children the English language, Oda said.

“Without English these people will never get anywhere,” said Maung Maung, an Asian Advisory Council member in Salt Lake City.

CCS offers life skills classes that refugees can take. They also can coordinate volunteers and interns to mentor and visit with the families. These mentors can go to the refugee’s home to teach them basic life skills, as well.

CCS has job developers, who will work with the refugee’s case manager, to find employment for the refugee. These job developers can also help refugees write resumes in English, because a lot of CCS employees speak multiple languages, such as Vietnamese and Mandarin Chinese.

They also offer a refugee foster care program for children. This program provides guardians until the child’s family can be found or until the child reaches 18 years of age.

CCS occasionally works in conjunction with other agencies in Salt Lake to provide opportunities for people from other countries, Van Maren said. Over the summer, CCS provided filing work for Koreans who were here for a three-month language learning internship, she said.

They also offer an array of assistance programs, which include help with immigration status, substance abuse treatment facilities and many facilities to help provide basic services and goods to low-income and homeless individuals all across Utah.

Mormon church lends help to refugees


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.

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