Thursday, April 23, 2009

Who are the Refugees in Dallas? - the IRC's statistics

New York - Acrassicauda reunion
(two refugees are reunited at an airport in the US)

Last Friday I wrote about finding out that there is a massive community of refugees right here in Dallas. Next week I will write about what it was like to mentor a newly-arrived family, but right now I wanted to run through some of the information about refugees here in Dallas that I learned at a volunteer training meeting with the International Rescue Commission (IRC).

The IRC works overseas doing disaster relief and aid work, and has since the end of WWII. Here in the US they are strictly a resettlement agency. People that have been identified as refugees by the UN High Commission on Refugees are allowed to resettle wherever foreign government will accept them. Only about 1% of the world's 21 million refugees are resettled, most of the rest just remain in limbo and in displacement camps (as in Sudan). Every year the number of refugees accepted by the US is determined by the President and Congress and then apportioned by country (80,000 last year, though only 70,000 actually made it in). These numbers are split between 9 different agencies, and those agencies resettle the refugees wherever they can find a place for them throughout the country.

The IRC is mostly on the two coasts and in TX, they have no offices in the mid-west. They resettled almost 7,000 refugees in 2007 and over 9,000 in 2008. The Dallas office worked with 600 clients (I believe this is families, not individuals) last year and expect to exceed that this year.

The countries that refugees are coming from changes constantly, and this year and last year the predominant countries represented are Iraq, Burma, and Bhutan.

Iraqi refugees just started flooding in last year - only 4,000 came in previous years, and then last year it was 12,000, and this year they expect 19,000. I think this is an amazing opportunity - if we want to make something good out of the Iraq war, it is our responsibility to care for those that have been displaced by it. They are generally wealthier and more educated than other refugees because they have had to flee war. In some cases that makes it tougher, because they have to start again at the bottom of society working menial jobs when they are used to being respected professionals. Most of them speak English.

Jordan - Lost

The refugees from Burma (Myanmar) are the ones that I have had the most contact with. Myanmar's government has discriminated against the minority people groups in the northern part of the country (Chin, Karen, and Kareni people) by choking off their income, persecuting them for their faith, and kidnapping men and boys to join their army. Many, many people have fled the country for Malaysia and Thailand, and they are not allowed back in the country. Most of them are not allowed to work while they wait in refugee camps, and they have been waiting for YEARS. My family waited for 7 years, but some have been waiting much longer.

IMG_2449Burmese refugee Mother and Child

The Bhutanese are a sad story. They are ethnic Nepali people that settled in Bhutan generations ago. They were kicked out by a dictatorial government in Bhutan and have waited and waited, hoping for the chance to go home. They finally made the corporate decision to resettle, and so they began to flood in for the first time last year.

New York City -  A Bhutanese refugee family's first day in the US
(by the way, the above photo is of a Bhutanese's family resettled by the IRC and their first day in the US)

Texas is a mixed bag for refugees. Most refugees have to take low-wage, entry level jobs, and in the rest of the country these jobs are non-existant at the moment. Here in Texas they have dropped a little, but we have the best economy in the nation at the moment, and most refugees are still able to find work. On the other hand, to quote the IRC representative, "Let's be honest, Texas is not the most friendly place to people coming from other countries." Texas is not proudly multi-cultural, so there is a loneliness to live here for quite a while.

Some of you have asked how you can get involved. If you live in Dallas, I highly recommend checking out the IRC website. If you live in Fort Worth, check out World Relief. And let me direct you to another blog I'll be talking more about, Refugee Arts, where two of my friends (Ian and Ruthie) from Moody post stories and photos of their work with refugees in Atlanta. It really gives you a feel for some of the refugees and their stories.

I loved what Ian said in an article he wrote for The Brew online magazine.
"In this way, by coming to us, the ends of the earth have made up for our trepidation and long, cowardly strings of excuses for avoid going out to them. Now it is as if Jesus has said to the world, 'Go ye into Georgia’s churches…' and as they stand and sit and crawl and weep at our doorstep, Jesus himself, unclothed, hungry, and thirsty, stands with them, and I am of the opinion that if those of us who are able still refuse to meet Him here, He will shake our dust off his feet, and we will hear His voice no more."

1 comment:

Meg thomas said...

This is an odd thing to post in a comment, but I found your blog when looking for photo images of Karen families. I really enjoyed reading about your volunteer work.
I'm wondering if you'd be willing to let us use one of your photos for a photo set we're working on to represent diverse families in pre-school classrooms. The photo of a Karen family we had
is too low resolution to work as a poster. I know this is an odd request on a blog, but we're in a bit of a bind. I work with a group called aMaze that works with teachers and children, using children's books to help children talk about differences, to reduce teasing and bullying. Right now, we're working with an early childhood family education group to create a series of posters of families that represent diverse families. you can contact me at if you're willing to consider this at all