Refugees in Cache County confront unique problems far from Utah’s urban center 

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Story and slideshow by EMILY ANDERSON

Since the ratification of the Refugee Act of 1980, more than 60,000 refugees have traveled thousands of miles — escaping war, oppression and famine — to resettle in Salt Lake City.

About 400 of those refugees decided to migrate 82 miles farther, making a home in Cache County.

Being away from Utah’s capital and largest city presents a number of issues for members of a population struggling to confront memories of their home country, adjust to a new culture and society and make their way in America.

Most of the refugees living in Cache County moved to the valley to obtain work.

“In Logan, many refugees we spoke with had come to the area originally based on recommendations from friends about the meat packing plant locally,” read a report on refugee needs written by Utah State University (USU) researchers and presented to the Utah Department of Workforce Services in 2015.

Julie Taquin of Cache Refugee and Immigrant Connection said in a telephone interview that about 80 percent of refugees in Cache County work at the JBS Swift & Co. meat-packing factory in Hyrum.

While JBS Swift provides a stable entry-level job opportunity that does not require fluent English, refugees frequently find themselves discontent with work conditions, said the USU report. The company offers benefits for its employees, but wages for factory workers are low.

Glassdoor, an online company database that includes employee reviews and salary reports, shows that wages for factory employees range from $10 to $12 per hour. The U.S. Health and Human Services Department’s 2017 poverty guidelines dictate that a family of five must bring in more than $28,780 to be considered above the poverty line. With these wages, a refugee working at JBS Swift would have to work at least 56 hours a week at $10 per hour, or 47 hours a week at $12 per hour, to merely keep a family of five from living in poverty.

JBS Swift did not respond to requests for comment.

“Whereas refugees in Salt Lake are afforded somewhat greater flexibility in their job options, those in Heber and Logan feel confined to these positions even when work conditions are not satisfactory to them,” said the USU report. “Although there are likely many other employment opportunities available in Logan and Heber, the communities there do not appear to be aware of them. This makes the refugee communities in smaller areas more vulnerable to changes in one company’s policies or employee needs than those in larger metropolitan areas.”

The report went on to recommend that the Department of Workforce Services look for ways to diversify job opportunities for refugees. However, difficulties for refugees in the area extend beyond the workplace.

Although JBS Swift commonly provides employees with health insurance, refugees in Cache County face other limitations to receiving health care.

Another study conducted at USU in 2016 found that refugees must confront physical, structural and cultural challenges when seeking health care.

“The most prevalent barriers to health care access included language barriers, the fear of missing work and difficulty navigating a complex health care system and its corresponding insurance policies,” said Josh Hoggard, one of the students who conducted the study, in a telephone interview.

Some of the cultural problems that refugees have when receiving health care, according to the report, include a wariness of preventative treatments, difficulty understanding when to call 911 and dealing with gender roles in medicine — for example, some refugee women are uncomfortable with male obstetrician-gynecologists.

Many refugees involved in the study weren’t sure how to schedule time off work for doctor’s appointments and struggled to comprehend insurance policies.

These structural issues are connected to the most prominent physical problem — language differences and limited access to translators.

Difficulties surrounding language, however, transcend health care to affect every aspect of life, according to Nelda Ault-Dyslin, one of the founders of Cache Refugee and Immigrant Connection. Some refugees take classes at the English Language Center of Cache Valley, but not all have the time or money for the $25 per quarter courses.

“One of the biggest resources we need is translators,” said Ault-Dyslin, who is also the program director of USU’s Center for Civic Engagement and Service-Learning. “We don’t receive any help from some of the larger refugee assistance organizations in Salt Lake City, so we rely entirely on volunteers,” she said in a telephone interview.

CRIC currently has one person on staff, Julie Taquin, who is paid through the AmeriCorps VISTA program, and two volunteer translators.

“We’re very small,” Taquin said. “Up until recently, we were a completely volunteer-run nonprofit.”

The four-year-old organization, however, is quickly growing. CRIC opened a physical office space in September 2017 at 429 S. Main St. in Logan.

Here, CRIC welcomes refugees during walk-in hours, which are Monday through Thursday from 4-6 p.m. The organization helps refugees with any responsibilities they are struggling with. That might include paying medical bills, scheduling doctor’s appointments and applying for government assistance like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — food stamps — and Medicaid.

“Anything they come in with, they can present to us and we help them work through everyday tasks,” Taquin said.

The nonprofit also works to integrate refugees into the community.

CRIC operates a community garden for refugees, located west of Logan High School. There, Taquin said, refugees can grow produce from their home countries that they might not typically find in an American grocery store.

With the help of Michael Spence, who is a USU track and field and cross country assistant coach, CRIC has organized an all-refugee track and field team. Taquin said this helps refugees build relationships and find an active outlet.

Despite these efforts, CRIC still finds it difficult to make refugees feel completely comfortable in Cache County.

“One of the largest challenges we face, just because there isn’t such a large refugee community, is just making the general population understand that refugees are here,” Taquin said. “Then, they can kind of be adapting their services to fit the needs of the refugees.”

Once residents are aware of refugees in their area, however, Ault-Dyslin said they are welcoming.

According to the USU report for the Department of Workforce Services, many of the refugees who move to Cache County are Muslims from Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

The Muslim population in Cache County is small. In 2010, there were approximately 308 Muslims in the county, according to the U.S. Religion Census. This amounted to not even one-hundredth of a percent of the county’s population at the time. Their only place of worship is the Logan Islamic Center.

“Can you practice your religion in Logan?” is listed in a frequently asked questions section of the Logan Islamic Center’s website.

“Praises all to Allah, yes, we can,” answered the center. “As a Muslim, we need to pray five times a day, and, fortunately, we usually do not face any issues in performing prayers. We heard reports that some supervisors allow our brothers and sisters to pray in their office. We also heard that people were praying in the park during their outdoor activities. However, we do face some challenges in practicing our religion.”

Despite having a resource for growing produce commonly found in their home countries, Muslim refugees struggle to find halal meat, or meat acceptable for consumption in Islam. According to the Logan Islamic Center, Muslims have to either purchase expensive, imported meat at Sam’s Club, slaughter animals themselves or travel to Salt Lake City to purchase the meat from halal butchers.

Although many refugees in Cache County struggle to find food that conforms to their religious beliefs and culture, the Logan Islamic Center believes community members can still help them feel welcome. The center encourages non-Muslims to invite their Muslim neighbors to dinner to get to know them better — as long as they provide a halal meal.

Another frequently asked question is, “How do the people of Logan treat you?”

“Alhamdulillah, the people of Logan treat us kindly.”