U helps refugees adapt to new culture

By By Jake Hibbard, Staff Writer

By Jake Hibbard, Staff Writer

Refugees fleeing from their home countries are able to find a safe harbor and a new start with the U’s help.

Since 2006, Utah has accepted an average of 1,100 refugees per year from countries such as Liberia, Sudan, Somalia and Iraq, according to a press release from the U College of Social Work.

The U reaches out to these refugees through the Hartland Partnership Center, run by the U Neighborhood Partners, located at Hartland Apartments near 1700 South and Redwood Road. The Hartland Apartments house more than 1,000 immigrants, many of whom are refugees, said Trinh Mai, an assistant professor with the College of Social Work who works with the Hartland Center.

“(The Hartland Center) increases access to life in this city,” Mai said.

Refugees can take classes on speaking English as a second language and also have access to occupational therapy.

“Oftentimes, you think of occupational therapy as something done after a stroke,” Mai said. “This is done to teach people from a different culture new skills.”

Skills taught include everything from learning how to use public transportation to using common household items such as a vacuum or dishwasher.

Mai said many refugees come from rural areas, so they have never owned household appliances or ridden a bus.

However, more and more refugees are coming to Utah from urban areas of Iraq and are having a different problem than learning how to live in a city. Many of the refugees coming from Iraq have gone to graduate school and were working as doctors and dentists before fleeing the country, Mai said.

“Because they lack (proof of a degree), they can’t work for what they’re trained to do,” Mai said.

Ahmed Ali, program coordinator with UNP, is partnering the U with the State of Utah Refugees Office to try to make graduate and undergraduate school more accessible for refugees.

Under his proposed program, refugees who already have a degree in another country would only need to take a few classes to fulfill their requirements, instead of going through college all over again, Ali said.

“We’re trying to show them how they can succeed at their future,” he said.
Mai said Utah would benefit from opening up more opportunities to refugees.
“Cultures need to learn from one another, not just one way,” Mai said.

[email protected]