Refugees can be overwhelmed when first arriving to Salt Lake City

Story and photos by HAYDEN S. MITCHELL

Utah became home to 1,200 refugees in 2016. All of them were people fleeing their home countries because of persecution, violence or war. They left behind families, friends and a place they had spent the majority of their lives. Somewhere they considered home, according to a PBS story.

“These people are not leaving because they want to,” said Aden Batar, a refugee who fled Somalia in 1994 with his family and resettled in Utah. “They are facing tough conditions as they flee because they would rather go than face the danger in their country.”

Any refugee coming to the United States, specifically Utah, is stepping into a completely new environment. They are starting their lives over again. The process of creating a new home can be a challenge for lots of New Americans. Batar said that some of the biggest challenges are the differences in language, the change in weather and finding affordable housing and a job.

Gerald Brown, assistant director of the Refugee Services Office, said, “It’s tough to rely on a safety net in Utah … refugees need to become self-sufficient in order to succeed.”

Becoming familiar with the new surroundings and getting comfortable with a different language is a priority when first arriving, Brown said.

They are initially greeted by a caseworker who has been assigned to them. The caseworker then takes them to a house, which has been furnished and readied for arrival. After the refugees see where they will be living, the caseworker assigned to assist the family will continue to help them as much as possible. It is important that the refugees feel like they have help and support through their transition. The goal for a caseworker is to get New Americans to self-sufficiency, which is when the refugee gets to the point of being able to provide for themselves or their family without assistance.

“We are the first face they see,” said Danielle Stamos, public relations and marketing director at Catholic Community Services of Utah in Salt Lake City, located at 745 E. 300 South. “It is important that we make them feel welcomed and relaxed. They have a lot going on and we want to make sure that they are not on their own.”

The refugee process can be difficult, but with the help of organizations like the Refuge Services Office and CCS it can become less of a burden. Help comes in a variety of forms for New Americans not only through organizations. Family, friends, faith, community and volunteers all help the process of integrating into a new home.

“Volunteers are amazing. They understand how much their time and effort helps these people,” Batar said. “The refugees appreciate all the help they get and the volunteers enjoy helping someone create a new home.”

Here are some results from the St. Vincent de Paul donation drive held in early November 2017.

Children at the school and members of the parish donated canned goods and other goodies for Thanksgiving.

There are many ways to get involved and help with the refugee process. If you want to be a positive impact on these people’s lives, here are a few ways that you can help out,  according to rescue.org and ccsutah.org.

  • The Refugee Family Mentor Program pairs volunteers with refugee families who are now living in Salt Lake City. Volunteers will guide these families through areas such as education, health care and accessing local resources. The most important aspect of this program is that volunteers become friends with these New Americans.
  • Joining the Know Your Neighbor Volunteer Program will allow you to mentor New Americans and help them become a part of the community. This program is run through the Salt Lake City Office of Diversity and Human Rights. Jennifer Seelig, the director of community relations, oversees the program.
  • Donating supplies, food and money can often be the simplest yet most effective way to give back. The International Rescue Committee is an organization looking for donations to help it provide newly arrived refugees with the basics they will need to start over. Some supplies that are most needed are baby products, toiletries and hygiene products.
  • KUTV lists some drop off locations:
    • Lincoln Elementary School, 3700 S. 450 East, Salt Lake City.
    • International Rescue Committee, 221 S. 400 West, Salt Lake City. Donations can be made between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. with advance notice. To set up a time contact Jesse Sheets, IRC development coordinator, at donateSLC@rescue.org.
    • Catholic Community Services accepts donations Monday through Thursday at the CCS Sharehouse, 440 S. 400 West in Salt Lake City. If you don’t want to travel, monetary donations may be made online.

Helping someone in need can be one of the most rewarding experiences in life, Danielle Stamos said. Organizations and volunteers help can make all the difference in the world. Helping refugees is not only appreciated but it can also be rewarding for the volunteers. It can provide a new life experience for donating their time to help and give them a new perspective on the world.

“Volunteers help us reach our full potential as an organization,” Stamos said. “They allow us to provide more help to those in need.”