Indiana’s Growing Refugee Population Needs Language Services, Housing and Access to Jobs – Inside INdiana Business
According to a new report released this week by researchers at Indiana University, language services, affordable housing and job access are among the top needs of Indiana’s growing refugee population.
Researchers at IU’s Center for Research on Inclusion and Social Policy (CRISP) used interviews with local refugees and employees of refugee-serving agencies in Indiana to inform the report, which aims to identify service gaps and provide policy recommendations. The research analyzed throughout the policy brief shows that the barriers faced by both groups are often linked.
The report follows an influx of Afghan refugees who arrived in Indiana last year after fleeing a country once again ruled by Taliban militants.
“It got me and my team to start thinking – what does this resettlement and integration process look like here in Indiana? And how are the systems put in place to help these people be successful ?” said Kristi Schultz, a CRISP researcher who helped lead the study. “That’s really what sparked the interest in this topic, and for us to start digging into this.”
A census of refugees in Indiana
Indiana is home to about 27,800 resettled refugees, according to the CRISP report.
From 1970 to 2007, between 200 and 500 refugees resettled in the state each year.
The Syrian Civil War led to a 63% increase in refugee arrivals to Indiana from 2011 to 2015. In 2016, 1,934 primary refugees — those who entered the United States for the first time through Indiana — are resettled in the state.
In the most recent count, 202 refugees arrived in Indiana between October 2020 and September 2021.
The largest group of refugees in Indiana come from Burma, accounting for more than 80% of all arrivals in the state since 2007.
More than 35,000 Burmese now live in Indiana. Most have been forced to flee Myanmar (formerly Burma) amid ongoing violence in the Southeast Asian country.
Indianapolis is home to the largest Burmese community in the nation – about 24,000 people in 2020. Fort Wayne is home to about 10,000 Burmese Hoosiers, and smaller populations also reside in Bloomington, South Bend, and Logansport.
While dozens of other nations are represented throughout Indiana, other predominant refugee groups in Indiana come from Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Haiti, Sudan and Syria.
Primary refugees are typically resettled in Allen or Marion counties, which have existing refugee populations and more support resources available.
Asylum seekers and secondary refugees—those who enter elsewhere in the United States and then settle in Indiana—tend to settle statewide.
Difficulties encountered during resettlement make it difficult to find jobs, housing and health care
According to the report, Indiana’s refugee population faces multiple barriers to self-sufficiency.
This includes learning a new language, finding affordable housing, securing stable jobs, navigating health care, finding reliable transportation, and coordinating social support systems there. where they live.
The researchers said that the lack of language skills “affects all areas of a refugee’s experience”.
Relocation agencies usually offer language classes, but many people find it difficult to attend due to work and other responsibilities.
Refugees also often lack knowledge of language options that could help them resettle. Researchers have noted that refugees with low English literacy frequently fail citizenship tests because they do not know they can ask for an interpreter at the interview.
Additionally, health departments that accept Medicaid or other federal financial assistance are required by law to provide an interpreter. Many suppliers are not aware of this obligation.
Resettlement agencies have mobilized to have the state’s Office of Motor Vehicles use interpreters for refugees, but few other agencies have followed suit.
“Language is really this major barrier that is intertwined in all the other barriers,” Schultz said. “If you don’t have access to the language or the translations, you’ll have a really hard time meeting all those other requirements.”
Other aspects of resettlement are also linked.
Securing stable employment may first require finding affordable housing located on reliable public transport routes, for example.
It is also difficult to maintain a stable job, especially when refugees are still learning English or do not have access to a car.
Finding health care is also complex. Although many medical facilities are legally required to provide language assistance, refugees may not understand their rights or how to navigate these systems effectively.
In one example, Congolese women in Indianapolis expressed confusion about several state and federal programs, including the Healthy Indiana Plan and the local version of Medicaid. Their frustration was compounded by “cumbersome medical appointment systems” and the inability to see a doctor at crucial times.
Some women said the lack of interpreters may have contributed to their long wait times. Others thought discrimination played a role.
COVID-19 has further exacerbated other barriers to resettlement. CRISP researchers noted that low-skilled refugees are likely to have front-line jobs, which has made them more vulnerable to job loss and healthcare benefits during the pandemic. Refugees were less likely during the pandemic to spend time improving their language skills, instead focusing on more basic needs like income support
Still, the pandemic has created new resettlement opportunities, the most notable being online services, according to the report. Refugee aid agencies across the state have prioritized digital access to services such as digital language and citizenship classes. This made it easier for refugees to participate, without having to worry about transportation and childcare.
Researchers recommend solutions
Increasing government funding was one of the main solutions identified by the CRISP team. Additional dollars can be used by resettlement agencies to hire more staff, provide additional points of contact, support refugees for longer periods of time and handle a wider range of resettlement issues, researchers said.
Better access to linguistic services is also essential.
Access to education and vocational training “should be a priority”. As refugees strive to acquire English skills, translation services should be readily available at essential community services, including doctors’ surgeries, banks, law firms and government agencies.
These same service centers should also increase cultural sensitivity training internally to build trust between refugees and providers, according to the CRISP brief.
With additional funding, resettlement agencies can also better support refugees’ housing expenses while they find suitable work, and help them acquire bus passes or driver’s licenses, which , according to the report, is “essential to self-sufficiency”.
The CRISP team also recommended that state and local leaders deepen understanding of their local refugee populations. They say it will help them discern the additional cultural barriers specific to each refugee group and how best to help them acclimate to their new homes.
“I would love to see lawmakers really highlight these local resettlement agencies, as well as highlight the importance of the voices of refugees who are being resettled here,” Schultz said. “They are really the ones who can dictate or articulate what they need to thrive here in Hoosier State.”
The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, nonprofit news organization that covers state government, politics and elections.