Refugees Often Face Greater Challenges in Adapting to United States
Many refugees to the United States travel thousands of miles to a safe harbor, but once here find that adjusting to linguistic and cultural differences is an equally daunting task, according to new research presented by two University of Dayton sociologists at the 107th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.
They found that while both groups face many similar challenges, refugees, who often come directly to the United States from traumatic environments with vast cultural differences, experience significant mental health issues and need more education about Western cultural norms and expectations.
“We found that this is a major difference from immigrant groups. Many refugees may be suffering from post-traumatic stress stemming from experiences in their home countries,” Linda Majka said. “They have seen violence, massacres, and even watched family members killed in front of their eyes.”
The Majkas, with other sociology faculty and students, interviewed people who work with refugees through local organizations as well as leaders of refugee communities and conducted focus groups with six refugee populations in the Dayton area: Sudanese, Burundian, Rwandan, Congolese, Iraqi, and Meskhetian (or Ahiska) Turks, an ethnic Turkish population originally from the Meskheti region of Georgia in the former Soviet Union. A broad cross-section of refugees, ranging from the well-educated and credentialed to those barely literate and unfamiliar with Western norms and culture, were included.
Not surprisingly, the greatest obstacle to better integration into the Dayton community was language, which affected virtually every aspect of their experience, the Majkas said.
“For some who are coming from countries where they were detained or suffered persecution, they are very troubled by signing papers they can’t read and don’t understand,” she said.
Finding jobs that pay living wages for their families is also a major source of stress and worry, the Majkas found.
“Many can only find dead-end service jobs, although they have good educations and skills,” Theo Majka said. “We found two Iraqis who have engineering degrees and computer skills who are sweeping floors.”
The Majkas said that since refugee needs in language, employment, school, and housing all are interrelated, improvements in one area will have a positive impact on the others.
Their recommendations include: better coordination of social services, more access to interpreters, more information about available services and housing options, better education about cultural norms and expectations for newly-arrived refugees as well as their rights as refugees and legal residents, and greater awareness of mental health issues and strategies to address them.
“Although our focus has been the Dayton area, other studies have found similar patterns in other U.S. metropolitan areas,” Theo Majka said. “A recent PBS documentary on refugees in St. Louis illustrated many of the same issues and challenges for refugees that we found in Dayton.”
— Source: American Sociological Association