The US Refugee Resettlement Process


Have you ever wondered how refugees get to US cities? Or how they get to our little valley in Northern Utah? Throughout this article, we are going to be walking through the steps that each refugee has taken to get where they are today, and sharing some stories that will give you an idea of the hardships they face.

By definition a refugee is a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster .

Fleeing home can be the hardest and most dangerous part in the refugee process. Oftentimes, those who have fled their home countries get caught at the border, are punished and detained. Pictured below is a young refugee named Ephraim, and his mother, Afu. His story began when he was in 9th grade; when he realized he needed to leave Eritrea, or be enrolled indefinitely in the mandatory national military service. Ephraim leaves Eritrea in hopes of crossing the border into Sudan, but he is stopped, beaten and imprisoned in Eritrea. Upon his release, he tries to flee his country again but is caught, beaten so badly he is hospitalized, and imprisoned.

Eventually Ephraim makes his way to a refugee camp in Ethiopia, where Doctors Without Borders is helping refugees who have experienced tragedies manage their PTSD, and make connections with others who have had similar experiences.

You can read more about Ephraim and Doctors Without Borders here.

Doctors Without Borders Article.jpg

Once refugees have made it to a refugee camp, they register with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. UNHCR determines if refugee status will be granted based on the fear of persecution for reasons related to race, religion, nationality, social group affiliation, or political opinion.

If refugee status is granted, their case is referred to a country that is accepting. If the person’s case is referred to the United States, they will meet with a Department of Homeland Security agent for an in-person interview. It’s interesting to note that refugees have no say in which country they are referred to.

If the DHS officer finds that all of the US admission criteria were met, the refugee then goes on to have medical screenings conducted. These screenings check for existing conditions that they may need immediate attention or medication for. The check is also conducted to prevent diseases such as tuberculosis from entering the United States.

The refugee is then matched with a sponsoring agency. We have 2 here in Utah: The International Rescue Committee and the Catholic Community Services. These are the only resettlement agencies in Utah.

After a match is made, the refugees are then given a cultural orientation. This teaches them anything from commonly used greetings and gestures in the United States to information about food and grocery shopping. Let’s be honest though, you can never know what another culture is like until you are submerged in it.

A few more security checks are performed and the refugees are then on their way to the US!

Upon arrival, the sponsoring agency will meet the individual or family at the airport and take them to an apartment that has been arranged for them. Over the next few days, there is a lot of learning and adjusting. Refugees are authorized to work as soon as they arrive in the US, so many seek out jobs in the first few days of arriving. A caseworker is assigned to the individual or family for 6 months and helps them with every day challenges they face. A huge goal is to help refugees become as self-sufficient in their new home.

Below is an amazing video, produced by the IRC, that walks us through the actual resettlement of the Win family to Salt Lake City. You’ll see how they live in the refugee camp and all of the new, yet simple, things they must learn once they arrive in the US.

Only 1% of refugees worldwide have the opportunity to be resettled. The number of refugees the United States is accepting has dramatically dropped within the last few years and may continue to do so. We are lucky to have 400+ refugees here in Cache Valley. We are able to learn from them and help them feel welcome in our community.

If you’d like more information about Cache Refugees, specifically, stay tuned for our next blog post!

Kenzie Bowcutt