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.

555555555

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.”