By: Anna Ashcraft
Dreams of the “American Dream” have been formulated by people seeking refuge for decades. For those who have lost everything, coming to America can be a great choice. There are pro’s and con’s to living in any country, with America being, among others, a free country. This makes it ideal for anyone seeking individual rights and freedom.
People from across the globe fled their homes for different reasons, ranging from religious or LGBT persecution in Iran to political persecution in Cuba, many people have been uprooted from their lives and families to await movement to an unknown country.
The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) stated on their website “60 million people worldwide have been forcibly displaced; less than 0.1 percent will get the chance to start a new life.”
The USCRI defines a Refugee as someone who is “forced to leave [his or her] home country to escape War, Violence, or Persecution.” They are teachers, students, children, parents, bakers, doctors, dentists, artists and so much more. They have been uprooted from their home and some have been brought to Erie, where they may not even speak the native language.
60 to 70 percent of refugees live in urban cities, while awaiting asylum. Here they may struggle to live everyday life, hoping to remain unrecognized for fear of deportation. They most likely are also being forced to work low wage jobs, since most degrees and certifications do not transfer internationally. In some countries, children can’t even attend school without legal status. And only legal citizens can be covered by health care.
Only about 20 to 30 percent of refugees live in camps, but the average stay in a camp lasts 17 years. Living conditions within the camps can be downright unsafe; food, water and medicine are scarce and overpopulation rampant.
If an individual is lucky enough to have their family brought with them, they are then sent to the U.S. or another country. If they are sent to the U.S. each adult individual “receives $1,125 for initial expenses from the federal Refugee Admissions Reception and Placement Program,” according to a report from the Erie-Times News. They are expected to repay this within six months, while having to pay for other expenses such as childcare, rent, groceries and travel expenses, just to name a few possible expenses.
The USCRI Erie (International Institute of Erie) states, that the federal government expects a working-age refugee to find a job within six months of arrival.They then have to get a job quickly in order to pay back the government loans for housing and travel expenses.
For those struggling with acclimation or language barriers, this is where community programs such as USCRI in Erie, the International Institute of Erie, the Multicultural Community Research Center and the St. Benedict Education Center help with integrating people into Erie, providing them with tools, classes, and even childcare.
517 E. 26th St, Erie, Pa
Multicultural Community Research Center:
554 E. 10th St
St. Benedict Education Center:
330 E. 10th St.
United Way of Erie Country:
420 W. 6th St, Suite 200, Erie, Pa
The Washington Times reported that there are around 10,000 refugees living in Erie today, out of a total city population of 100,000. This is nearly half of the 20,000 immigrants in Erie. Erie is one of the largest resettlement destinations for refugees. Out of that 10,000, there are 4,500 Bhutanese, the fastest growing of any refugee group in the city. There are around 537 Somali refuges making them the second fastest growing refugee group in the city; followed by aproximetely 486 Iraqis, and 130 Congolese, as of June 2015.
There are also 6,000 Russian and Ukrainians and 3,500 Bosnians living in Erie, yet most of them are no longer refuges, but naturalized U.S. citizens.
According to the Pennsylvania Refugee Resettlement Program, “4,751 refugees from 31 countries have been recorded as arriving in Erie between 2004 and 2014. Nearly half of those refuges were Bhutanese,” reported the Washington Times.
“310 refugees arrived in Erie from October through March (2014), making that 23 percent of the 1,331 refugees who have resettled in Pennsylvania during that time period.”
Erie has embraced the growing community of refuges and immigrants into our nation. Community Resource Centers around Erie are actively out there trying to help refugees and immigrants during tough times.
There are many centers around Erie and Pittsburgh that offer childcare to refugees such as International Institute of Erie (USCRI Erie), United Way of Erie County, VolunteerMatch, Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Pittsburgh. The YMCA of Greater Erie offers training and internships through a partnership with Erie Art Museum, the Erie County Cooperative Extension, as well as, many local day care centers.