Refugee Crisis

Grace Stone, Editor

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Different cultures coming to America.

While some families spend thousands yearly on holiday decorations, there are people who face a much different reality. Citizens in various countries have fled their wartorn homelands in fear of oppression, retreating to refugee camps.

More than 125 countries are scattered with camps trying to help approximately 45.2 million refugees look for a new, safe community to live and work in.

Glendale siblings Caitlin and Joshua Woodman have personal experience with the refugee community here in Springfield. The Woodman siblings’ grandfather has been renting out housing to a family of eight from the Congo.

“They’ve been in a refugee camp in Tanzania for 10 or 15 years,” Caitlin Woodman, junior said.

“They stayed in a 12’ x 24’ mud hut with no electricity for that long,” Joshua Woodman, senior added.

Refugees housed by families like the Woodmans, generally do not know English. The language barrier was the main difficulty the Woodman family faced.

“The big thing for us with the refugees was the language barrier,” Joshua said. “The Congolese family speaks French and Swahili. My dad speaks a little bit of French but he had a very difficult time speaking French with the dad of the Congolese family.”

“Even in French they have a very heavy accent,” Caitlin said.

These refugees find housing like this through the International Institute of St. Louis – Southwest Missouri Branch (IISMO) program.

In the state of Missouri, the IISMO program works with refugee families in order to reconnect them to family they have in the area, or to help them get back on their feet.

The program started in 2010-2011, working with Burmese families and has since grown greatly. IISMO is part of a larger organization called United States Committee of Refugees and Immigrants. They proposed doing refugee resettlement into this area because they were looking for new sites to be able to resettle refugees.

“We noticed that the area was getting a lot of Burmese that were relocating into the area,” Lara Fallon, the social work manager in the St. Louis office, said.

“They were coming down here primarily for jobs. We wanted to be able to provide more services, so we opened an office to provide supportive services to those Burmese individuals… At first we focused primarily on the Burmese population and doing family reunification, meaning that they had family in the area. Then approximately two years ago we started doing free cases, for individuals who did not have family in the area, working with the Congolese population.”

There is a 13-step process requiring families to go through interviews, and security screenings that can last up to 24 months.

IISMO was able to resettle 117 families in 2016 after they completed this process. While the Burmese population isn’t increasing as much, the Congolese population is still immigrating.

“Primarily the focus is on the Congolese, but they’re coming out of Tanzania, they’re coming out of Rwanda, they’re coming out of Uganda, they’re coming out of Kenya,” Fallon said.

To help these families, renting out a house is a major help, but a simple donation can make a huge difference.

“One of the main things, whether it be doing a clothing drive, shoe drive, is helping them get items that they need,” Fallon said. “The fact is that they have such limited finances when they first arrive in the area. So anything that can help them relieve their financial burdens. Another big thing is drives for diapers and other baby items. Diapers are very expensive, as well as other things babies need. As well as books and such, for kids as well. And sometimes even the parents, getting them lower literacy books, like children’s books, can help them also with learning English. Sometimes we need help with setting up apartment when they’re first coming in.”

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Glendale High School Quill Springfield, Missouri
Refugee Crisis