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'Welcoming community' critical for refugees

By Devon Dolan | Posted - Apr. 22, 2013 at 10:27 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Thousands of refugees come to the United State every year facing language, cultural and employment barriers. The people who help them settle say that those challenges can be made easier by one thing: a friend.

Each year, about 80,000 refugees come to the United States, and over the course of refugee history, 25,000 have settled in Utah. A majority of refugees live in the Salt Lake Valley. Wisam Khudhair, who came from Iraq, is one of them. Working with American companies in Iraq, he came to the U.S. in 2010.

Like many refugees, even with Khudhair's work experience, he had to start working in the U.S. in entry level positions. As he moved up, he became a job developer at Catholic Community Services. But through his odd jobs he learned important social skills.

"Just make friends and everything will be alright," Khudhair said.

By the numbers
Refugees in the U.S.
  • Estimated 25,000 refugees have been resettled in Utah
    • Somali, Sudan and Bosnian are the largest groups
  • Utah ranked #20 in 2008 with 914 refugees
  • More than 2 million refugees have resettled in the U.S. since the fall of Vietnam. The largest numbers are:
    1. USSR
    2. Vietnam
    3. Yugoslavia
    4. Laos
Info: Refugees Services Office

Gerald Brown, director of the Refugee Service Office, emphasizes learning social skills, which he said are most important for any immigrant.

"To be welcomed and to know that somebody values you and wants you to be with them — that's the best thing you can do. If you do that, everything else will kind of take care of itself," Brown said.

Brown has worked all over the world, and said he has never seen a community as welcoming as Salt Lake. But he said it is the responsibility of locals to reach out to refugees.

"Everything we do one way or another is meant to bring the welcoming community together with these survivors," Brown said.

With a welcoming community, these survivors, as Brown calls them, are more likely to use local programs for learning English, employment, housing, and financial assistance than those who remain isolated.


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