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Elvia Torres-Garcia 1

Elvia Torres-Garcia
English 2760-400-F16
Andrew Malouf
17 October 2016
The Slow Migration of Refugees and Its Impact on Utah
I had the privilege over the Fall break to work with the International Rescue Committee
(IRC). My service learning consisted of 3 days of volunteer work with this amazing non-profit
foundation that aids refugees all over the world including Utah. There is currently about 50,000
refugees living in Salt Lake City, so you can only imagine the impact of the various cultures,
languages and traditions have on the citys landscape. It is known that the United States was built
by immigrants and the mixture of the various cultures, races, ethnicities has shaped what it is
today. However, there is a big difference between refugees and immigrants, both terms are used
interchangeably. My intention is to show that the slow migration of refugees into Utah from war
torn countries has a tremendous impact on the assimilation of the refugees and the social
psychological factors that need to be addressed once they are in the state of Utah.
Per the IRC a refugee is defined as an individual who is currently outside his or her
country of nationality or habitual residence who is unable or willing to return due to wellfounded fear of persecution based on his or her race, religion, nationality and political opinion. It
is important to understand that they are not immigrants, they did not choose to be here.
According, to the United Nation Refugee Agency we are seeing the highest levels of
displacement on record. In 2015 there were 21.3 million refugees that were forced from their
homes and nearly half of them are under the age of 18. The top three countries with the most

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displaced group of people are Somalia, Afghanistan and the largest contributor is Syria with 4.9
million people. To understand the gravity of the situation, imagine living in a refugee camp,
sleeping in a tent and standing in line for food hoping there is enough for everyone. Some
refugees spend generations in one camp waiting for a host country to take them in. However,
since the 09/11 attacks, many countries including the United States are extremely fearful of
taking in refugees and with good reason. With the threat of violence from religious extremist and
terrorist the fear is real raising tensions among refugees coming from the Middle East. Many of
these concerns come from our own politicians such as Jason Chaffetz. In an article published in
the Salt Lake Tribune he says that Obamas refugee increase is an error that may be exploited by
extremists. (Canhan). Chaffetz is referring to an incident in 2011 where two Iraqi refugees that at
the time were living in Kentucky were arrested on charges of terrorism they were planning to
send weapons to insurgents in their home country. The FBI caught them in a sting. Since then,
the State Department has increased security protocols. (Canham). However, is this enough to
ease the tensions between the culture and religious differences? That remains to be seen, not so
much in Utah but in other parts of the country where racial and religious prejudice runs ramped.
I cant help to think of McIntoshs White Privilege invisible knap sack in which she
states, I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group. Yet, most people are
quick to let an incident be the sole identity of a group of people in this case Muslims are
portrayed as terrorist and in a broader sense anyone from the Middle East. The fear is
understandable on both sides, most refugees that come to Utah are terrified to come to a country
where they cannot speak the language, they have no family and are completely cut off from all
they know and identify with. Some or most have come from war torn countries where they have
experienced considerable trauma. The psychological impact of being resettled and assimilated

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into an unknown culture must be terrifying and rough. In a study published in the Australian &
New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, refugees are more likely to suffer from PTSD (Post
Traumatic Stress Syndrome) and experience considerable psychological difficulties because of a
history of violence, torture, rape and other forms of assault (Morina). Because of this endured
trauma, they may have issues in how they see or trust others making them vulnerable to more
stress and anxiety. Imagine already feeling persecuted in your home country just to feel alienated
in another where you dont know the customs or speak the language.
In the article, How Does It Feel to be a Problem? Moustafa Mayoumi talks about how
Arabs and Muslims are the new problem of American society and that they are continually
seen with narrowed eyes, as enemies living among us. Despite these views and hurdles most
refugees continue to strive to make a better life for themselves and their families. Currently the
two resettlement agencies working in Utah are the International Rescue Committee and Catholic
Community Services. In addition, the top leaders of The Church of the Jesus Christ of the Latterday Saints recently called on Mormons in Utah and around the globe to help ease the suffering
and participate in local refugee projects, where practical. (Canham). After the San Bernardino,
California and Paris attacks, Governor Gary Herbert met with national security officials to better
understand the refugee vetting process. (Jordan). This is in part because of the deep ties the
Mormon religion has with religious persecution. Now more than ever Governor Herbert is
determined to keep the doors open to refugees from Muslim countries and still protect the
residents of Utah. Even though Utah is considered a friendly state towards refugees, there are
people that still dont want them here. Theyre seen as a burden on our economy and some
people expect them to leave their culture and ways of life and become American. I have

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learned from our different readings in this class and videos how important it is to maintain these
cultures alive and thriving for the good of all people.
There is still a dark side to the refugee resettlement programs, in 2008 a Burmese Muslim
refugee named Edar Met raped and killed a 7-year-old Burmese Christian refugee. Both families
were housed in the same South Salt Lake City apartment complex, home to many other refugees.
In the Salt Lake Tribune, Julia Lyon writes that she went to the refugee camps in Thailand where
these groups came from and found out that these two groups of Christians and Muslims were
housed in separate sections of the camp for good reason. Which brings to mind that if we are
bringing refugees into the United States we need to make sure that we are housing them in places
where we can keep them safe from further persecution from other religious groups. There are
many programs set up for refugees to find jobs, learn the language and integrate them within our
school system. However other issues need to be addressed such as a deeper understanding of
their culture, religion and psychological assessment of their trauma to help them succeed and
strive in compassionate and humane way. We need to be more compassionate and have an open
mind to these various cultures and religions. After all we are all human and just want a better life
for our families.
I think its very important to volunteer and give back to the community it gives you a
different perspective on not only your life but the life and struggles of others. Some of the things
that can be done is to volunteer with the Catholic Community Services Family Mentoring
Program, if you have a few hours a week, you can help teach an ESL class and help a family
learn and understand English better. Think of the difference that would make in someones life in
addition you can have your children come to help other children or even invite a friend. There is
also the Youth Mentoring Program through the Catholic Community Services that will facilitate

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and encourage positive relationships in the refugee youth. The IRC (International Rescue
Committee) offers the same services of mentoring refugee families and individuals. In addition,
you can assist refugees to develop effective job seeking and interview skills. What you should
remember is that not anyone can be a volunteer, because refugees have been through a traumatic
experience, volunteers are carefully chosen with the IRC. The application process is in 4 parts,
fill out an application, attend orientation, be interviewed by IRC staff and complete a background
check. This seems like a lot of work just to volunteer but the process is quick and timely. If for
whatever reason you cant volunteer do to time you can also donate, money, clothes, food and
resources. Over all my experience working with refugees was a positive one and I believe that if
all of us take the time to help someone in need the world would be a better place.

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Works Cited
Ann Corcoran. "Refugee Resettlement Watch." Refugee Resettlement Watch. N.p., Mar.-Apr.
2016. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.
"Figures at a Glance." UNHCR News. N.p., 2015. Web. 22 Oct. 2016.
Julia Lyon | The Salt Lake Tribune, Julia Lyon. "Stolen Hope: Daughter's Death Comes after
Years of Fear, Running for a Burmese Family." N.p., 31 Mar. 2008. Web. 22 Oct. 2016.
Matt Canham | The Salt Lake Tribune. "The Slow Migration: Syrians to Be Utah's next Refugee
Community." The Salt Lake Tribune. N.p., 08 Nov. 2015. Web. 27 Oct. 2016.
Morina, Naser, et al. "Attachment style and interpersonal trauma in refugees." Australian and
New Zealand journal of psychiatry (2016): 0004867416631432.
Rothenberg, Paula S.Race, class, and gender in the United States: An integrated study.
Macmillan, 2004.