Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Refugees In Chapel Hill-Carborro Discuss Barriers to Employment, Housing & Integration

Posted by Christopher Coen on February 6, 2012

Karen refugees from Myanmar resettled to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area in North Carolina got a chance at a local community planning meeting to discuss challenges they face in the community. For those who are illiterate in their own language, learning English is a major barrier, which in turn leads to problems with integration. Large families and the Karen refugees’ need for a place to grow food has made finding affordable housing difficult. An article in the Chapel Hill News discusses the Karen refugees’ resettlement challenges:

CARRBORO – The volunteers…have taken the community planning process to…Carrboro to speak with the community’s newest immigrants, refugees from Myanmar, formerly Burma…

…The…volunteers asked the group what they liked about living here and what problems they have…

…the immigrants said some people look down on them because they don’t speak English.

“They integrate to the degree they know English,” [Mayor Mark Chilton] said. “Some do, some don’t. It’s hard. Many of them are illiterate in their own language. To go to school and even hold a pencil is hard for them.”

Several men said it’s hard to get a job if they don’t speak English and, even if they do, it’s hard to get a permanent position or move up…

The buses are not always available when they need them, especially on weekends…

Many said housing was a problem.

“When we apply for a government house they tell us our income is too high,” Lei Say, 25, said through an interpreter. “When we go to rent, they say your income is too low because you have a big family and only one person is working.”

Sometimes rules require more than a family can afford, he continued. “If you have five people, you have to live in a two-bedroom,” he said…

And those who can afford a home sometimes run into cultural differences, she said. Some immigrants can afford a subsidized townhome, for example, but most want a yard because they come from an agricultural tradition and want to grow their own food… Read more here

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