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Jobs needed for refugees

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Fariah Ahmed, 34, and Lul Omir, 44, are both single mothers and refugees from Somalia.

The two arrived in Utah last fall and are taking classes to learn English. They're also both searching for steady jobs.

"I want to work," said Omir, one of two dozen refugees who participated in a Spring Refugee Celebration at the Barnes & Noble Bookstore in Sugar House.

The event included storytelling and music, along with displays of artwork created by refugees. It was sponsored by Lutheran Social Services of Utah as a way of raising awareness about the needs of the refugee community, said Leslie Whited Vance, the agency's chief executive officer.

Employment is key, she said, particularly for refugees who have reached the end of the six months of federal assistance during their initial settlement here.

"We received a huge number of refugees in the fall of last year and at the same time we're in an economic downturn," Vance said. "If I could make a plea today, it would be for people to open their hearts to help mentor a refugee."

There is often a surge of refugee arrivals at the end of the federal fiscal year, and last year saw a greater influx than usual, said Gerald Brown, director of refugee services at the Department of Workforce Services.

It's always challenging to find refugees good jobs with health insurance, which "is one of the biggest things you can do to help a refugee," Brown said.

"Here, we're lucky because Deseret Industries is a place to put people to learn very basic job experience," he said. "You can only go so far in such a job."

That's where Lina Smith comes in. As director of refugee employment at the Asian Association of Utah, Smith helps refugees advance after their six-month settlement period by learning the skills they need to find stable employment.

"When we get the cases referred to us, a lot of them are working in jobs like, sometimes hotels, where when there's a slow period they don't get as many hours," she said. "We try to get them out as soon as we can."

Smith said about 45 people were placed in jobs last month, averaging $10.97 an hour for men and $7.66 for women. Most included benefits.

The refugees come from a variety of backgrounds, skill levels and English ability. Smith said they're evaluated on a case-by-case basis to find proper employment. She said the association is starting to see the influx of cases from last fall, and is ready to help refugees learn how to advance.

"We do a lot of job coaching," Smith said. "We have to train them how to fill out job applications ... how to interview, how to be the one the company wants to hire."

E-mail: dbulkeley@desnews.com