Local communities can help refugees integrate into their new homeland.
FOUR decades after Gov. Dan Evans decided to welcome Vietnamese refugees, Washington state remains committed to help people in similar situations rebuild their lives.
Since 1975, Washington has resettled more than 130,000 refugees from nearly 50 countries. Annually, the state welcomes nearly 3,000 refugees. Washington invests in quality programs that help refugees meet basic needs, find employment, take care of their families and successfully integrate into their new communities. Building a new life, however, is full of challenges that refugees learn to overcome every day — surviving and thriving as they integrate into our communities.
While the faces have changed over time, the refugee experience has not. They can be are Iraqis or Afghans in danger for having helped U.S. troops. Or Burmese, Somalian, Ukrainian, or other peoples targeted for their religion, race, ethnicity or political opinion. All refugees leave behind their livelihoods, homes and loved ones to flee with little more than the clothing on their backs. Their escapes often involved dangerous journeys through jungles, open sea or by air before finding safety in surrounding countries and refugee camps. The average wait time for a better option is 17 years. For the nearly 16 million refugees worldwide, fewer than 1 percent will be given the opportunity to be resettled in another country.
For those fortunate to be resettled, the journey of a refugee does not end when they arrive in the United States. Resettlement requires learning a new language and navigating sophisticated financial, social, health and education systems. Once refugees find work, they have limited time to continue their English language studies or further their vocational training. Many have never used a banking system and need help gaining financial literacy. Refugees struggle to find long-term affordable housing and reliable transportation. Refugees who arrive with professional degrees and credentials spend thousands of dollars and years of additional training, education and work experience to prove their qualifications in the United States.
Despite the many challenges, most refugees — much like those resettled 40 years ago from Southeast Asia — succeed in rebuilding their lives. Many do so with the help and support of programs and resources invested in by Washington’s leadership. Designated by the governor to administer Washington’s refugee resettlement and social-services programs, the state Department of Social and Health Services and the Office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance oversee 14 different programs serving more than 5,000 refugees each year.
DSHS partners with 60 community-based organizations, resettlement agencies, community colleges, school and health districts and other local, state and federal agencies to provide English language classes, employment and training programs, and other support services for refugee families. DSHS employment programs are nationally recognized as highly effective in helping refugees secure and retain their first jobs in the United States, earn a higher wage and learn to speak English. DSHS also invests in services to assist refugees in becoming U.S. citizens.
Despite the availability and quality of DSHS services, the department continues to look for innovative solutions and partnerships to address the diverse challenges facing refugees arriving in our communities today. Research has shown that support from local communities is critical to help refugees integrate into our community. Volunteering and working with refugees is a rewarding experience that demonstrates the resilience of the human spirit that continues to rebuild a new life — one free from persecution and full of opportunity for themselves and their children.
People who want to get involved and help can contact their community resettlement assistance center.
As the Washington state refugee coordinator, I invite readers to get involved in helping to resettle refugees in our communities. I am proud of the legacy and commitment that Washington state has made to provide humanitarian assistance to refugees from around the world.
I am inspired by the refugees. Their stories, experiences and hard work enrich our communities. DSHS is proud to transform refugees’ lives in Washington state.