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.