clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Many refugees are here to stay
There is nothing to go home to for some Kosovars

Like many of the refugees sponsored by Catholic Community Services, many of the 109 Kosovars now in Utah plan to stay.

The Kosovars, of course, can return to their homeland, but Jodi Lippert, development director for Catholic Community Services, says for most there's not much to return to.Many now in Utah hope to learn English and find work.

"Ninety-eight percent of our refugees are employed within six months," Lippert said. Her organization helps 500 refugees settle in Utah each year -- but the war in Yugoslavia will raise that number to 700 this year, she said.

Families from Kosovo began arriving in Salt Lake City in late May. Thirty-two more refugees flew in Friday night. Catholic Community Services has helped them find apartments in Salt Lake City and Layton, Lippert said.

Dibran and Mirnete Bajrami were among the 30 Kosovars who arrived June 18 from Fort Dix, N.J., an "emergency Ellis Island" for refugees from the ravaged Yugoslavian province. The couple moved their children into a tiny apartment on South Highland Drive.

On hot afternoons last week, the adults baked bread and made salads while the kids cooled off in the apartment complex swimming pool. Other Kosovar children in neighboring apartments played soccer on the grass or sat under trees, drawing pictures.

Friday morning, Dibran Bajrami's diabetes forced him into the hospital, where he is expected to remain until Monday. Elvina Mehinovic, a Catholic Community Services staff member who speaks Bosnian, helped him navigate through the health-care maze.

"A lot of our refugees are suffering with health problems," Lippert said. "We connect them with medical services. And we give them referrals for mental health and counseling as well. Some of the people coming to us from Kosovo have been tortured."

Each family of refugees is paired with a volunteer mentor who speaks their language. "Our volunteers come from Catholic parishes, LDS wards, from the community at large," Lippert said.

Mentors show refugees the basics in their new community. "They bring them to the grocery store, where they might be overwhelmed by the 20 different kinds of milk to choose from," Lippert said. The refugees also have help when confronting Utah public transportation.

Catholic Community Services plans gatherings for refugees in the Salt Lake Valley. "We have social and cultural events, often around holidays, to help them acclimate," Lippert said.

In the fall, the agency will help Kosovar parents register their children in public school, she said.

The Kosovars "have the option of returning home," Lippert said. "But they will wait and see how safe it is." Many refugees in Utah, be they Cuban, African, Vietnamese or Yugoslavian, find that their homelands are too turbulent. Some receive news that their neighborhoods have been destroyed. For the Kosovars, that is all too likely.

Whether the refugees' stay here is long or short, Lippert said, her staff and volunteers hope to make it peaceful.