Welcoming Refugees to the Rockies Local non-profit works with asylum community in Denver

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Posted Tue, Nov 2, 2010

DENVER – The United States is half way round the world from Burma. To newly arrived asylum seekers though, it might as well be on another planet. The United States admits thousands of refugees and asylum seekers into the country each year. For some, Denver will be their new home. The Refugee and Asylum Program run by Lutheran Family Services will help more than 500 of them with the process of integration.

             “I didn’t know there were refugees in the state, let alone in Denver,” says Brian Wright, Volunteer & Church Relations Coordinator for LFS’s Refugee and Asylee Program. Wright began his career in non-profits by working with the HIV and AIDS community in Denver. His job gave him an opportunity to work with a refugee family and he says the experience “broadened my world.” When LFS offered him a job in May, he did not hesitate to say yes.

            “These are people who had the choice to leave their homes taken away” says Wright of the over 80 thousand refugees admitted into the states this past year. There are currently over 15 million refugees in the world today, with 8 million having been displaced for over five years. 

            The Refugee and Asylum Program were created by LFS in 1975 to help with the growing number of refugees coming into the country from Southeast Asia. The program has provided services to people from over 20 countries, with the largest groups recently coming from Burma, Iraq and Bhutan. This year over 900 refugees will start to make their new home here in Colorado. The programs mission is to help clients with the first year of residency in the United States.

            “The most intense period is the first three to six months” says Wright. Newly admitted refugees need to register for a social security, government assistance through one of several programs, find a residence, begin English classes and jobs training. The volunteers with LFS work with the clients on a one-on-on basis for their first year in the country and remain available to the clients for five years after arriving in the country.

            Each case worker has anywhere from 100 to 150 cases at one time. LFS provides a range of programs for refugee families, offering everything from after-school mentoring for children and English as a second language for adults to finding and furnishing apartments for newly arriving families.

            Wright talks enthusiastically about the program and its participants, yet does not white wash the difficulty of the work. “At the end of the day, people are still people” says Wright. “We try to set the table in terms of employment options for you, some monies for the first three months that your here, but at the end of the day, we can’t be parental in terms of controlling everything” says Wright. An even bigger obstacle can be helping the refugees find employment before the government monies to help with their transition run out. Refugees arrive knowing little to no English and sometimes do not even have to work skills to find a job in this country.

            Wright is heartened though by the how many refugees who have received help from LFS come back to help new refugees in the program. “It’s one of the really encouraging things to see” says Wright. Those that return help new refugees with everything from learning to navigate the city’s bus line to helping them adapt to their new homes culture.  The current Director of Programs for LFS came to this country himself 15 years ago through LFS and the program currently employees several refugees as case workers.

            LFS depends on donations of food, money and time to help newly arriving refugees acclimate to their new home. To learn how to help, or to find out more about the program, visit the LFS website at http://www.lfsco.org/

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