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Saturday, June 12, 2021

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Panel addresses effects of refugee crisis on Houston


With an ever-growing refugee crisis around the globe, Texas has become a top destination for those seeking an escape and hope of a better tomorrow.

On Wednesday night at UH-Clear Lake, a panel made up of representatives from different non-profit organizations discussed how refugees in Houston are integrating into the local culture and the importance of community for them.

“Harris County has around 30 percent of the world’s refugees,” Vice President of Immigrant and Refugee Resettlement Services at Catholic Charities Wafa Abdin said. “If Texas was its own country, it would have the fourth largest numbers of refugees accepted.”

Of the 70,000 refugees that enter the U.S. each year, anywhere from 10,000 to 15,000 come to Texas and 3,500 of those resettle in Houston, said Director of Refugee Services at Houston Interfaith Ministries Ali Al-Sudani.

“In the next two years, there’s going to be a dramatic increase in the refugees admitted to the United States,” said Ghulam Kehar, executive director and co-founder of Amaanah Refugee Services. “From 70,000 it will rise to 100,000. That’s a 40 percent increase in our intake, and Houston will be the first city to see it.”

There are many non-profit organizations meant to help refugees and immigrants with their transitions. These existed before any federal funding was put toward these programs, board trustee member at the Arab American Cultural and Community Center Faiza Zalila said.

“These people aren’t broken,” Abdin said. “They are full of hope and determination, and you’re not just helping them. They help you to tap into your greatest gift, which is the capacity for human compassion.”

But even with the efforts of these organizations, which include providing housing, jobs and healthcare, the expectation that a refugee will be completely independent after a few months is unrealistic.

“Without the support of the community, we cannot do this,” Abdin said. “These refugees need mentors and help doing incredibly simple things, like just getting around the city and driving.”

With the support of a mentor, refugees will be able to become contributing members of society all the quicker, said Amber Jar Pharmacy co-owner Rand Hikmet.

“When I came to this country, it took me six years to go to college,” Hikmet said. “Even though I wanted to do it as soon as I arrived, I just didn’t have the resources.”

One of the largest barriers in transitioning into a different education system is language, Zalila said.

“For the entire Houston Independent School District, there is one Arabic interpreter,” Zalila said. “Consider(ing) that Arabic is the second most common native language here, it’s a problem that cannot be ignored.”

But helping refugees isn’t a one-way street, Abdin said.

“These people aren’t broken,” Abdin said. “They are full of hope and determination, and you’re not just helping them. They help you to tap into your greatest gift, which is the capacity for human compassion.”

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