Refugees seeking the help of the refugee services at St. Vincent Catholic Charities in Lansing are greeted with a hot meal, found housing, enrolled in school, helped grocery shop and screened for medical issues.
"We take care of these refugee families so they can live here and make our community beautiful,” said Judi Harris, the director of refugee services at STVCC.
Harris said the refugee resettlement agency at STVCC resettles about 600 refugees from across the world per year.
“We have refugees coming in from Somalia, Sudan, Congo, Iraq, Burma, Bhutan and Afghanistan,” Harris said.
She said the Lansing area hasn’t seen much backlash against refugees.
“We have been lucky in Lansing because we get very little Islamophobia,” she said. “Very few people in our community are out of touch, and we are fortunate that the people here are very educated and know who the refugees are.”
One such refugee is Yadu. Yadu, who chose to keep his last name private because of potential anti-refugee sentiment, is from a small country next to India called Bhutan.
“I am originally of Nepali origin,” Yadu said. “But in Bhutan people of Nepali origin were not granted fundamental rights. When our protests were not successful, we were evicted.”
Yadu ran from Bhutan at the age of 13-years-old.
He fled with his family to Nepal, where he lived in a refugee camp for 20 years.
“I met my wife in the refugee camp in Nepal,” Yadu said. “I met her through some friends, and we married two years later.”
After waiting for 20 long years, Yadu and his family finally received a resettlement package from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, to go live in the United States as a third country resettlement.
Though Yadu was ecstatic to finally be able to leave the refugee camp, Michigan was a hard place to adjust to at first.
“To live in a different environment with a different language was painstaking and shocking, but I had a positive attitude that I could get through the system and raise my family,” Yadu said. “And of course, it is so cold here.”
He later found a job at the refugee services to help give back.
“I am working for the refugee agency as a case manager now,” Yadu said. “I understand the refugee problems, so I can work with them closely.”
Harris said refugees like Yadu are incredibly economically beneficial to the community.
“Research shows that there is a huge economic benefit on receiving refugees into our community,” she said. “They are younger than our average population, they work hard, and many have been buying abandoned houses and making them beautiful.”
Sarah Fentin, social work and Spanish senior at MSU, works closely with refugees like Yadu. Fentin is a full-time student intern.
“As a part of our social work program at MSU, we have to do 240 hours of volunteer work each semester to get accredited,” Fentin said. “I love it here at the Refugee Resettlement Agency because the work I am able to do is very hands-on.”
The work she does can vary, but said she had monthly responsibilities.
“I have a list of refugee families I see every month that I check up on, and I make sure they are doing OK,” Fentin said. “I advocate for them at places like the Department of Health Services (DHS) and I make sure they can get around the city if they don’t have their own transportation.”
She said the work she does would be rewarding for any student at MSU.
“There are so many surprising moments with the refugee families I work with, and I learn so much from them,” Fentin said. “I absolutely recommend anyone from MSU to come volunteer or intern here so they can help our community and our immigrant population.”