HOUSTON –The United States is the world’s top refugee resettlement country. More refugees resettle in the state of Texas, and in particular the city of Houston, than anywhere else in the country. Refugees there find a thriving economy, warm weather and a diverse urban scene where they can locate help in starting a new life.
Hundreds of refugees and their supporters came together recently to celebrate World Refugee Day in Houston.
Houston is now home to 70,000 refugees from 78 countries, and around 2,000 more come each year.
This city offers a booming economy, lots of jobs and a very diverse population.
The largest refugee ethnic group, the Vietnamese, started coming here in the 1970s.
Lena Tran settled more recently, and her children know little of Vietnam.
“I was born by a Vietnamese mother and she escaped from Vietnam and I know a little bit about Vietnam because she tells me stories of them,” said My Tran Vo, 8.
Only two weeks ago, Reza and his Bahai family came here from Iran.
“The most important reason is I did not have freedom of speech and religion,” said Reza, discussing why he came to the U.S.
There are many agencies and support groups for refugees in Houston, but one of the most important is the YMCA International Services.
The YMCA’s Amy Blose said the organization helps get refugees started in their new life here.
“The case manager will visit them at their home, check in on them frequently, make sure they are doing okay, and our goal, really, is self sufficiency for refugees,” said Blose.
On this day, she is visiting Radjabu Selemani, a refugee from war-torn Congo.
“The family gets separated during the war; everyone takes his way, just to save his life,” said Selemani.
The YMCA set him up in this apartment with another African refugee and helped them both find jobs. Selemani says he has also found encouragement from average people he has met in Houston.
“Americans are very friendly people,” said Selemani.
Blose said it is sometimes easier for refugees with fewer skills and education to adjust here than it is for some highly educated refugees whose degrees are not recognized here.
“They actually have to start over. You know, we have a lot of people who were engineers who are now working at Walmart as a cashier,” said Blose.
She says there are local college programs to help such people gain accreditation, but it can take a long time,especially when there are language barriers to overcome.
However, no barrier is too big to discourage Selemani.
“In Africa, some people say America is heaven, but, according to me, America is a land of opportunity,” said Selemani.
That opportunity is largely what has made Houston the number one U.S. city for refugee resettlement.