Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Study finds basic obstacles for refugees not addressed well

Posted by Christopher Coen on August 19, 2012

Scheduling English classes at inconvenient times and places for refugees; not addressing child care; English classes that too often group together learners at vastly different levels of English; insufficient education about Western cultural norms and expectations; refugees made to sign papers they can’t read and don’t understand. These are some of the problems researchers found in refugee resettlement in Dayton. An article at EurekAlert explains:

DENVER — Many refugees to the U.S. travel thousands of miles to a safe harbor, but once here find that adjusting to linguistic and cultural differences is an equally daunting task, according to new research to be presented by two University of Dayton sociologists at the 107th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association…

Theo Majka — with co-author, fellow sociology professor and spouse Linda Majka — researched the experiences of refugees from six ethnic or cultural groups who have resettled in Dayton over the past 20 years. The study is an extension of similar research conducted by the Majkas in 2005 on immigrants and decades of work in diversity studies.

“In the new study, we wanted to see how the experiences of refugees differed from those of people who came here by choice,” said Linda Majka. “We weren’t sure what we would find.”

They found that while both groups face many similar challenges, refugees, who often come directly to the U.S. from traumatic environments with vast cultural differences, experience significant mental health issues and need more education about Western cultural norms and expectations.

“We found that this is a major difference from immigrant groups. Many refugees may be suffering from post-traumatic stress stemming from experiences in their home countries,” Linda Majka said. “They have seen violence, massacres, and even watched family members killed in front of their eyes.”…

Not surprisingly, the greatest obstacle to better integration into the Dayton community was language, which affected virtually every aspect of their experience, the Majkas said.

While the refugees said the quality of English as a Second Language classes offered in the area is generally good, they encountered major obstacles in trying to take the classes, Linda Majka said.

Refugees said classes are held at inconvenient times and places; child care is an issue; and the classes too often group together learners at vastly different levels of English, she said. Language also affects refugees’ ability and comfort in accessing health care, according to Linda Majka.

“For some who are coming from countries where they were detained or suffered persecution, they are very troubled by signing papers they can’t read and don’t understand,” she said…

The Majkas said that since refugee needs in language, employment, school, and housing all are interrelated, improvements in one area will have a positive impact on the others.

Their recommendations include: better coordination of social services, more access to interpreters, more information about available services and housing options, better education about cultural norms and expectations for newly-arrived refugees as well as their rights as refugees and legal residents, and greater awareness of mental health issues and strategies to address them… Read more here

2 Responses to “Study finds basic obstacles for refugees not addressed well”

  1. cory82 said

    Its shocking that refugees are signing papers they don’t understand. Why aren’t resettlement agencies held accountable?

  2. diana3211 said

    As long as papers are signed without an interpreter present, the risk is high that they don’t understand what they’re signing. Could the refugee program require the presence of an interpreter? Every little detail should not have to be spelled out, unless you have resettlement agencies who won’t do the right thing. Of course the next step would be enforcement of the rules, and we already see a problem with that regarding other requirements in the refugee program.

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