SALT LAKE CITY — The Abdulahi family was welcomed at the airport by volunteers from Saint Catherine of Siena Newman Center May 2, as part of Catholic Community Services’ Welcome the Stranger program.
No longer able to live in Mogadishu because of a civil war, Ismail and Kin Abdulahi fled to a refugee camp in Ethiopia, where they remained for 21 years. It was in the refugee camp that they met, were married and where their nine children were born. The children now range in age from 1 to 17.
While at the refugee camp they were joined by Ismail’s father and his younger brother. The father died in the camp, but the younger brother joined the family and resettled with them in Salt Lake City.
"There are over 15 million refugees in camps and of those less than 1 percent are resettled, with 70,000 coming to the United States each year," said Aden Batar, CCS Immigration and Refugee Resettlement director.
CCS averages about 550 refugee cases per year. The refugees come from various countries. Recently they have come mostly from Burma, Bhutan, Somalia and Iraq, with smaller groups from other countries, Batar said.
"A lot of the refugees are coming to the United States to seek a safer place to raise their families and rebuild their lives," Batar said, adding that when they flee to neighboring countries they often stay in refugee camps for up to 20 years or longer. "Children born in the refugee camps usually do not have access to schools or a future."
When refugees arrive in Utah, they are taught how to become contributing members of society. The majority of them get jobs within six months of their arrival, Batar said.
"They don’t mind taking any kind of job that is offered to them," said Batar. "They are hard workers and they are survivors; they appreciate the opportunities given to them."
Volunteers from eight different parishes in the Welcome the Stranger resettlement ministry meet with the refugee families to teach them English, how to use appliances, go shopping, and help the children with homework.
Eleonore Reunodji, St. Catherine of Siena Newman Center resettlement ministry coordinator, and other St. Catherine volunteers, meet with the Abdulahi family on a weekly basis.
"We have been teaching them English, playing games with them and getting to know them," said Reunodji. "They are very vibrant, happy and very grateful for the help we have been giving them. They are so much fun to be around and so eager to learn about our culture; they want to know how to integrate into our culture.
"Every time we see them they don’t hesitate to sit down and read with us," said Reunodji. "Sometimes we take them hiking and they really love it. They are actually better hikers than us because they were used to walking everywhere and not used to driving around in automobiles."
The Abdulahi family is grateful for their new home, Ismail said through Mohamed Mudhir, the CCS case worker. In the refugee camp, they lived in a hut with plastic bags draped to shelter them from the weather. They had no toilets or running water, lived on rations offered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, cooked over a kerosene stove and slept on the ground with blankets. The children attended school and played soccer and other games in the camp with other refugee children.
Now that they are in Utah, Ismail hopes to get a job and have his children go to school, he said. Kin will stay home with the younger children, but hopes one day to go to school to become a nurse.