Lincoln is Gathering Place for Refugees from Around the World
by Yelena Mitrofanova, Extension Educator
Lincoln Agencies Assisting Refugees & Immigrants
Lincoln Action Program (Ph: 402-471-4515)
Lincoln Literacy Council (Ph: 402-476-7323)
F.I.R.S.T. Project, Inc. (Ph: 402-488-6760)
Northbridge Community Center
Hispanic Center (Ph: 402-474-3950)
Faces of the Middle East (Ph: 402-474-6223)
Lincoln Interfaith Council (Ph: 402-474-3017)
Good Neighbor Community Center
Catholic Social Services (Ph: 402-474-1600)
Planned Parenthood (Ph: 402-441-3332)
Asian Community & Cultural Center
Multicultural Community Center
According to the United Nations, a refugee is a person who flees their home country due to a "well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of particular social group or political opinion." Refugees are forced from their countries by war, civil conflict, political strife or gross human rights abuses. There are an estimated 36 million refugees in the world today. This is a dramatic increase since the mid-1970's when there were less than 3 million refugees worldwide. The end of the Cold War and the end of communist/social regimes as well as changes in politics led to a huge increase in the number of refugees.
There are ten traditional countries of resettlement: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States. Of these, the U.S. accepts more refugees for resettlement than all the other countries combined.
Refugees in the U.S.: As stated by U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services, for the 2004 fiscal year, the United States anticipates to admit 70,000 refugees and immigrants from six geographic regions: Africa, East Asia, Europe, Central Asia, Latin America/Caribbean, Near East/South Asia. There are 15 states in which the vast majority of all refugees resettled in the United States: California, New York, Washington, Florida, Texas, Minnesota, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Virginia, Massachusetts and Ohio.
Though refugees are not usually able to choose precisely where in the U. S. they would like to resettle, resettlement agencies try as much as possible to place refugees in areas in which there are pre-existing ethnic communities. For instance, Florida resettled more Cubans than all other states combined. New York resettled the largest number of refugees from the former USSR, Sierra Leone and Liberia, whereas, California resettled large numbers of Vietnamese and Iranians. The largest number of arrivals from Iraq was resettled in Michigan. Many Somali and Ethiopian refugees were resettled in Minnesota, and the largest number of Sudanese refugees arrived in Texas.
Refugees in Lincoln: In the 1980's, immigration of refugee population began to increase in Lincoln and Lancaster County. Lincoln has resettled almost 5,500 refugees since 1983. According to the Asian Community Center, Lancaster County is the nation's 18th largest resettlement area for Asian refugees and immigrants. Moreover, Nebraska has become fifth in refugee resettlement per capita when compared with states of similar population, and half of the state's refugees for the last 18 years resided in Lincoln.
Mary Pipher in her book, "The Middle of Everywhere: The World's Refugees Come to Our Town," tells the story of how Lincoln, Nebraska becomes a gathering place for refugees from all parts of the world. Nebraska, sometimes described as the "middle of nowhere," is increasingly becoming a "cultural crossroad." Our new community members come to Lincoln from over 40 different countries, bringing new ethnicities, cultures and religions. Lincoln became a home for Afghani, Vietnamese, Bosnian, Mexican, Russian, Ukrainian, Tajikistan, Kurdish, Sudanese, Chinese and many other refugees and immigrants. Mary Pipher says, "We are becoming a richer curry of peoples."
Growth and influx of recent immigrants have notable impact on Lincoln communities. Refugees and immigrants are breathing new life into urban communities by establishing businesses and revitalizing neighborhoods. Asian and Latino stores, markets and restaurants have brought new economic vitality to some neglected areas. As a result of these ethnical enclaves, Lincoln residents can find a good falafel sandwich or chrysanthemum vegetable drink as well as fresh Mexican food.
Community development organizations must be responsive to their changing neighborhoods. These organizations have a profound impact on integrating refugees and immigrants into American life stream. Community development agencies are in a key position to connect newcomers not only to long-term housing, but also to education, business development, jobs and leadership opportunities through strategic partnerships and planning.
Source: New Americans Task Force, www.newamericanstaskforce.org; Bureau of U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services, www.ins.usdoj.gov; IRSA: Immigration & Refugee Services of America, www.refugeesusa.gov
For more information, contact:
Yelena Mitrofanova, Extension Educator
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County
444 Cherrycreek Road, Suite A, Lincoln, NE 68528.