There are a growing number of refugees coming to Utah and on to Cache Valley to make a home. They come to find jobs, get their children into schools and learn to exist in a country where they don’t speak the language or know the customs.
All come from refugee camps where they lived in tents or other makeshift living spaces years before getting permission to come to the U.S.
When refugees make it to Cache Valley, they are put in touch with the Cache Refugee and Immigrant Connection (CRIC) at 429 South Main.
They are doing a huge work integrating refugees into Cache Valley and trying to help them become economically self-sufficient by helping them find employment, transportation, housing and schooling.
“We work with approximately 400 people in the valley from over 23 different countries,” said Mellissa Brimhall, an AmeriCorps VISTA worker who mans the front desk at CRIC.
CRIC is a small nonprofit and all funding comes from private donations with none from the federal government, but they have been fortunate to get private grants and the generosity of people in Cache Valley.
“The highest population of refugees is from Myanmar (sometimes referred to as Burma),” she said. “People come to the Immigrant Connection for different reasons: help with job applications, some need to have their bills read to them, some have mail they need interpreted and various other reasons.”
CRIC also teaches different adult education classes, among them driver’s license courses, English and Citizenship Classes.
Nelda Ault, who founded the volunteer organization, worked for the Department of Workforce Services working with refugees for about a year and half when they ran out of funding.
Ault is currently an adviser at the USU Career Center and volunteers at the refugee center.
“I have a passion for helping these people assimilate into our culture,” she said. “I still have the luxury to help out as much as I can.”
CRIC has nine board members who are from across Cache Valley, college professors, an attorney and other professionals.
Aden Batar, director of immigration and refugee resettlement for Catholic Community Services, said there have been over 30,000 refugees that came to Utah since the late 1970s.
Batar is from Somalia, himself. After marrying and starting a family, a civil war broke out in Somalia and he hid his family for two years. His older son died as a result of the war; he and his family fled and made it to Utah.
“I came with my family, we took whatever mode we could to get here,” he said. “We traveled to Kenya, spent two years at a refugee camp. Then they came to Utah. I don’t have a country. Utah gave my life back.”
Refugees spend an average of two to five years, some more than 10 years trying to get from a camp to the U.S. Some of the Congolese have been in refugee camps going on 30 years.
“The refugees don’t have a hard time finding employment in Utah because of the low employment rate here. Not letting refugees in hurts our economy,” he said. “Refugees are hungry to prove themselves. They work in hotels, production facilities, airport, construction and wherever else they can find work.”
He said refugees are proud to have jobs; most can find work within six months. In Utah, you don’t have to speak English to work. Refugees are survivors and they are proud to do any job they are given, he said.
“We need to provide them protection. They need to be thriving; they are not threats. They are our neighbors and schoolmates,” Batar continued. “We have not had any refugees convicted crimes. They are happy to be here and they want to stay here.”
Historically, the U.S. started resettling refugees in the ’70s after Vietnam.