Wave of Refugees Resettling in Indianapolis

Jason Thomas, Indianapolis Star, March 16, 2010

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Hussein [a woman] is among a recent wave of refugees who have resettled in Indianapolis. More than 1,110 refugees are expected to make Indianapolis their home this year, an increase of more than 30 percent from last year.

Some come as families. Some come alone. All are desperately seeking a new life while escaping economic or political strife unimaginable to most Americans.

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The vast majority of refugees who settle in Indianapolis are Burmese, who continue to be the largest refugee group in the U.S., followed by Iraqis.

Refugees such as Hussein, who come from nations that are represented here in fewer numbers, can face an especially difficult adjustment.

Refugees “follow the American narrative of people seeking out a better economic or political life,” said Una Osili, associate professor of economics and philanthropic studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Advertisement

“They bring with them diverse cultures, diverse traditions that help to enrich the fabric of our communities.”

They also come with their own set of difficulties.

Indianapolis Public Schools, for example, has been struggling to accommodate 21 new refugee students since February. Six more are due to arrive by the end of this month.

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Officials with Catholic Charities Indianapolis and Exodus Refugee Immigration, the two refugee resettlement agencies in Indianapolis, cite the area’s relatively healthy economy, a welcoming community and an established Burmese population of about 8,000 people on the Southside for why refugees are placed here. About 75 percent of Indianapolis’ refugees each year are Burmese. (Burma is also known as Myanmar.)

“Basically, the key is community stakeholders and churches assisting the agencies and having a dedication of what they’re doing,” said Susan S. Boyle, Indiana’s refugee resettlement coordinator. “Everybody works together to accomplish this.”

One of the most pressing obstacles to overcome is a new language. Parents and their children oftentimes are learning English simultaneously. For adults such as Hussein, the classroom is often the leasing office at Stratford Apartments, which many refugees call home. For the students, it’s in classrooms across Indianapolis.

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Spanish is by far the most prevalent language among those who are limited- English speakers–which make up more than 11 percent of the district’s enrollment–but IPS students speak more than 40 languages in all.

Last week alone, 11 refugees enrolled in IPS schools from countries including Congo, Ethiopia and Sudan.

Six other students–five Burmese and one Ethiopian–will call Indianapolis home by the end of this month.

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