Davis County residents may feel helpless as they hear more and more about the plight of refugees throughout the world, now numbering in the tens of millions, many in desperate situations.
But there are things that can be done, some big and some little, and there are people in Davis County doing them.
Patrick Poulin, executive director of the International Rescue Committee’s Salt Lake City office, said an LDS ward in Bountiful sponsored a refugee family and helped set up their apartment and mentor them as they began adapting to their new country.
He told of a group of LDS youth who helped improve facilities at a goat farm project IRC established west of the airport to help refugee families, and of a woman who collected supplies in her garage to donate to IRC.
And there is more that can be done to help both locally and internationally.
An event called “Breaking Bread,” will take place on Thursday, Nov. 16, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Garden Place in This is the Place Heritage Park, 2601 E. Sunnyside Avenue in Salt Lake City.
Billed as “a family-style dinner to celebrate the place we call home,” Breaking Bread will be an opportunity for locals to share a table with refugee families and enjoy a meal catered by refugees.
“It’s a very meaningful way to sharing cultures with each other,” said Poulin.
Supporting businesses run by refugees, many of whom are very entrepreneurial, is another way to help, according to Poulin.
IRC has helped establish the Spice Kitchen Incubator in Salt Lake, where refugees interested in starting a food business have technical assistance and training, and access to a commercial kitchen.
“Entrepreneurs participating in the program develop successful food businesses, preserve their culinary traditions and share their talents,” according to the website, spicekitchenincubator.org.
Restaurants have spun off from the incubator, including one that features foods of Africa and another with Thai food.
Simply by trying new foods, families can support local refugees.
“Light One Candle” is another initiative of the IRC that local residents can participate in. Essentially a sub-for-Santa program, it provides interested families or groups with the names and ages and needs of a refugee family, who can then purchase items on the list as gifts.
One fundamental service to local refugees is just giving support.
“Many are feeling unsettled,” said Poulin, referring to the political climate since last November’s election. “Many are afraid. We need to make sure they still feel welcome.”
It is 26-step process for refugees to be allowed into the United States, according to information from the Utah Department of Workforce Services Refugee Services Office.
To even be considered, said Poulin, there has to be the fear of being persecuted or killed due to religion, nationality, political or social class. The first options are for refugees to be repatriated or stay in the country they fled to.
When that is not possible, the process can begin and involves the state department, Homeland Security and the FBI.
It usually takes 18 to 24 months but could take three or four years, he said, and includes interviews and medical screenings and security checks.
Last September, 107 refugees arrived in Salt Lake City and were welcomed and mentored by IRC and its affiliates. This September, five arrived, a result of President Donald Trump lowering the number of refugees accepted in the U.S. from the 110,000 Pres. Barack Obama had approved annually to 50,000.
In fiscal year 2016, Salt Lake City’s IRC supported 613 refugees, about half of the total to come to Utah. The other half were welcomed by Catholic Community Services. This year the decline was significant, despite the need increasing.
IRC has been building a case for at least 75,000 refugees to be admitted in 2018, but it appears Trump will only allow 45,000.
“We have the infrastructure and the funding,” said Poulin. “There are more refugees in the world than ever before. We know we have a very good system in the U.S. It’s time for us to step up and not step away.”
Which opens another way to help refugees: Let your support be known to the nation’s leaders.
“We can reach out to senators and representatives and express to them that Utah is known to be a welcoming state – that we support both Dreamers and refugees,” he said. “We want to be able to help in this crisis. They add a lot to our community.”