NSights Blog

Lessons learned about why Reno will succeed in helping refugees become self-sufficient

Carina Black offers thoughts, experiences and information through the process of helping two refugee families resettle in Reno.

Since writing my first blog entry on our efforts to begin resettling refugees earlier this year, the Northern Nevada International Center (NNIC) has been busy preparing for the arrival of first refugees.  My staff and I, along with about 50 volunteers, greeted two families from the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Aug. 24 at the Reno Tahoe International Airport.

The most fascinating aspect of the last few months has been to bring stakeholders and volunteers together and recognizing the tremendous outpouring of support from the community.  We decided early on to create an adoption program through which faith and other communities could lend a hand, including collecting furniture, household items, food and clothing for the arriving families. The sponsor of the first refugee family, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, set a high bar for organizing these drives!  They collected enough items for the next several families and are now offering their lessons learned to other groups in our monthly community volunteer meetings and trainings.  

Several of the upcoming refugee families have already been adopted by groups including the Episcopalian Church, the Sparks Christian Fellowship, the Northern Nevada Muslim Center, retired Brigadier General Pam Milligan and her husband Randy, and others.   

Public sector agencies, including the Washoe County School District, the Northern Nevada Literacy Council, the Reno Housing Authority, Northern Nevada Community Housing, the Hopes Clinic and many other organizations have assisted in ways that go above and beyond my wildest expectations.  The biggest lessons I have learned that Northern Nevada is made up of welcoming and generous individuals.   

And yet, there are still some sceptics who have concerns about why our country and Northern Nevada should be resettling refugees.  If you count yourself among them, please consider these facts about displacement and resettlement:

  • 65.3 million people around the world have been forced from their home. Among them are nearly 21.3 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. Fewer than one percent of those refugees are resettled to third countries, and only those who are most vulnerable.
  • The United States has been welcoming refugees since 1975 and has settled over 3.2 million refugees from around the world with nearly half coming from Asia.  In 2016 the US will have resettled 85,000 refugees.  This number will increase to 110,000 in 2017.
  • The US refugee resettlement system emphasizes self-sufficiency through employment and most refugees are employed.  (In fact, refugee men are employed at higher rates than their US born peers 67% to 60%).
  • Refugees' participation in public benefit programs decline as length of residency increases.
  • Refugees are intensively vetted for security threats before being resettled in the United States.  This vetting process takes 18-24 months.
  • Economic studies demonstrate that immigrants including refugees not only help fuel the nation's economic growth but they also have an overall positive effect on the income of native born workers.

The journeys of our two Congolese refugee families are difficult to fathom.  They began after the horrendous post-Rwandan civil wars in the 1990s that killed over six million people and ended up here in Reno, where the kids are already attending school, while the parents are taking ESL classes and applying for jobs. The families' journeys are not getting any easier, but at least now they are intertwined with a community that is supportive, an economy that requires a diverse labor force and two families hungry to tackle new challenges.    

Carina Black