Along Central Avenue in Charlotte, NC there is an eclectic collection of restaurants and shops that represent a multitude of cultures. The residents that contribute to the diversity in this neighborhood are often refugees. It is not widely known, even to the residents of Charlotte, that the community is a major gateway city for refugees resettling in the United States. Organizations in Charlotte began assisting refugees in the resettlement process in the 1990s (Singer, et al) and has continued to welcome around 600 refugees yearly (Way). The entire state of North Carolina resettles an average of 2,700 refugees a year (Singer, et al).
Once refugees are relocated to North Carolina they have access to assistance from the State Department. This assistance includes furnished living arrangements, a Social Security card, and school registration, among other services. Refugees also have access to a caseworker, as well as language and citizenship classes (“The Reception and Placement Program.”). Different organizations in the city of Charlotte carry out this assistance and other procedures to prepare refugees for their citizenship in America. Carolina Refugee Resettlement Agency and Catholic Charities Diocese of Charlotte receive funds from the State Department to support refugees and cover operation costs for the organizations (“About Us”). This guidance and assistance only lasts for the first three months of a refugee’s resettlement process.
Listen to Sandra Buck of Catholic Charities Diocese speak about the services carried out by refugee resettlement agencies.
Private non-profit agencies such as Charlotte Awake and Refugee Support Services continue to prepare the refugees for citizenship and life in America after the ninety-day period of government funding ends. One important program offered by Refugee Support Services is Fruitful Friendships. This program matches refugees with an American friend who will “help them navigate this new city and culture and walk alongside them in this new phase of life” (“Get Involved”). Charlotte Awake partners with areas churches and religious organizations like Samaritan’s Feet to provide newly resettled refugee families with pairs of shoes. Shoes may seem like a normal possession to Americans, but for other cultures they are a luxury and a form of protection on the job or outside (“Refugee Solutions”). Project 658 and International House are also active in supporting refugee communities and provide services ranging from education and child care to legal aid. (“Who Helps Them”).
Refugee youth enjoy “Kids Day at the Lake” hosted by the Lake Wylie Power Squad and Carolina Refugee Resettlement Agency (photo courtesy of Scott Waybright)
While this assistance is essential to a refugee’s acclimation to their new country, they still face a number of challenges after resettlement. Most have come from a dangerous situation in their home county or refugee camp and many have waited years to be resettled by the United Nations. Even though refugees are in a more stable environment after resettlement, there are still many obstacles that they must overcome. Language is the most prominent and immediate barrier. Some refugees arrive not knowing English and benefit from enrolling in English as a Second Language (ESL) courses offered through Central Piedmont Community College’s Continuing Education program. Refugees are also encouraged to become self-sufficient from the day they arrive in the United States. Resettlement agencies step in to assist through cultural education courses and job placement services.
Acculturation requires not only English language skills and jobs but also friendship and the support of communities who share cultural traditions. Over the last twenty years resettled groups have established ethnic associations that cater to the needs of newly arrived refugees. The Bosnian- Herzegovinian American Cultural Center connects those who fled the genocide of the early 1990s with more recently arrived Bosnian immigrants while the Charlotte Congolese Community provides resources for older and newly settled populations who have arrived from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The more than 25 ethnic associations in Charlotte are a testament to the diversity and resiliency of resettled communities in the region.
Gardens hosted by Refugee Support Services in Charlotte, NC provide a place for community building and sustenance for resettled communities. (photo courtesy of Scott Waybright)
Refugees continue to contribute to the richness of Charlotte and take pride in creating better lives for themselves and their families. Multiple refugee success stories have been captured in this video archive. Wilfrido and Zulema, asylees from Cuba, were established professionals prior to resettling in the United States. After arriving in the United States their job credentials and experience did not transfer and the couple now work blue-collar jobs. Despite this obstacle Wilfrido and Zulema remain appreciative of the opportunities and freedoms available in the United States. Other refugees have gone on to earn degrees from universities in Charlotte, such as Queens University and UNC Charlotte. Bertin Mongongo, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, came to this country with only fifteen dollars to his name. Since his arrival, he has learned to speak English, received a Bachelor’s degree of Economic Finance from UNC Charlotte, as well as an MBA from Queens. Now he has a stable job working with important organizations in the field of business. Many refugees also use their personal experience to help those with similar hardships. Mulugeta, an asylee from Ethiopia, channeled his passion for human rights into two Bachelor’s degrees and a Master’s degree in Social Work (“Refugee Infographics”). Burmese refugee David Pau serves as a case manager with Carolina Refugee Resettlement Agency and welcomes newly arrived refugees resettle into their new lives in the United States.
These success stories center around the new opportunities that refugees have found in America, and the freedom that they have to pursue their passions and interests. The refugee organizations throughout Charlotte, as well as the State Department’s support, allow them to establish their new lives and their personal motivations drive them to become integral members of the community.
World Refugee Day helps create connections across communities. (photo courtesy of Scott Waybright)
“About Us.” Carolina Refugee Resettlement Agency. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 June 2016.
“Get Involved.” Refugee Support Services I Charlotte, NC. N.p., 2014. Web. 24 June 2016.
“Refugee Infographics.” Charlotte Awake. Charlotte Awake, 2016. Web. 24 June 2016.
“Refugee Solutions.” Charlotte Awake. Charlotte Awake, 2016. Web. 24 June 2016.
Singer, Audrey, Susan Hardwick, and Caroline Brettell. “Twenty-First Century Gateways: Immigrants in Suburban America.” Migration Policy Institute. N.p., 30 Apr. 2008. Web. 24 June 2016.
“The Reception and Placement Program.” U.S. Department of State. The Office of Website Management, Bureau of Public Affairs, n.d. Web. 24 June 2016.
Walker, Erika M. “Refugee Resettlement In North Carolina.” (2011): 3-6. Master of Public Administration: UNC School of Government. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2011. Web. 24 June 2016.
Way, Dan. “UPDATE: N.C. Has Accepted 59 Syrian Refugees.” Carolina Journal. N.p., 15 Nov. 2015. Web. 24 June 2016.
“Who Helps Them.” World Refugee Day Charlotte. Charlotte Awake, 2015. Web. 24 June 2016.