University study explores national refugee resettlement programs

Researchers looked at organizations across the United States which aid incoming refugees.

Cleo Krejci

Amid a shifting sociopolitical climate in the U.S., a new University of Minnesota research study examined the state of national refugee resettlement organizations in the country.

The study, published earlier this month, analyzes the strengths, challenges and future outlooks of the nation’s refugee resettlement programs.

“I… wanted to get a perspective from [resettlement organizations] on what’s going on on the ground, if you will,” said lead researcher Damir Utržan. “I think there was a lot of anecdotal evidence… but up until we designed this there wasn’t anything scientific that was about to back up those claims using hard data.”

Researchers surveyed more than 70 refugee resettlement organizations in the United States with a focus on Syrian refugees. The targeted organizations resettled close to 80 percent of refugees who entered the country from 2013-16 and about 40 percent of all Syrian refugees.

The U.S. is now on track to admit the fewest number of refugees since the creation of its resettlement program, Utržansaid. The study found a 98 percent decrease in Syrians admitted in the first four months of 2018 compared to the same period in the previous year.

“I think we’ve seen a lot of our partner agencies trying to figure out how to continue to support the individuals they work with, who have even heightened anxiety given the anti-refugee, anti-immigrant climate,” said Sarah Brenes, refugee and immigrant program director for the Advocates for Human Rights in the Twin Cities.

Misinformation is a primary source of anti-refugee discrimination and prejudice, according to the study.

“That’s one of the misunderstandings — you can’t just show up here because the laws are really complicated,” Utržan said.

The study also found that refugee resettlement programs across the country have recently experienced funding cuts, making them more reliant on grants and private donations for support. 

“To have the response of our government to significantly slash the number of refugees that we’re accepting just doesn’t seem consistent with the response to the global refugee crisis,” Brenes said.

According to the study, securing adequate housing, helping refugees find employment and providing appropriate cultural orientation training was among the top priorities for resettlement organizations.

“We know that people suffer with PTSD, anxiety, depression [and] other mental health problems because of what they’ve been through. Until they really get a resolution, preferably… approval to stay in the United States, their symptoms don’t go away, regardless of intervention,” Utržan said.

Accessing healthcare is also a main concern for refugees both before and after entering a new country, said Bukola Oladunni Salami, an associate professor with the faculty of nursing at the University of Alberta who has published around 30 studies on immigrant and refugee health.

Salami said she thinks more work needs to be done on the social determinants of health and immigrants.

“We know much more that the reasons why people get sick [are] not just because of biology— that there are other social determinants [such as] employment, education, physical environment and if you’re able to take care of [those] issues then… it prevents people from getting sick,” Salami said.