Literally seared into K’s back and arms were scars from a glowing metal rod, applied by his captors hoping to force a confession out of the Sri Lankan native. Gasoline poured into the newly burned flesh not only caused more pain, but a monthslong delay in healing. Finally, K was able to escape when his family paid a jailer to smuggle him out. He made it to the U.K. and applied for asylum, confident that the scars would confirm his story. Instead, the Home Office, the U.K. department that handles immigration, decided that there was no definitive evidence of torture; that, in fact, he had likely branded himself. They denied his application and told him to go home.

Refugees like K face similar situations every day — their stories are not believed. K’s story and others like his are detailed in Dina Nayeri’s new book “Who gets believed: When the truth isn’t enough.” Nayeri, herself a refugee, lays out in convincing detail why people who “know the script” are granted asylum, but for most refugees, “the script” of what to wear, what attorney to hire, what to say and when to say it is literally a foreign language.

World Refugee Day

Today, on World Refugee Day, we face an unprecedented number of those forcibly displaced from their homes because of “persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations or disruptions to public order.” According to the United Nation refugee agency, UNHCR, 108.4 million people were displaced in 2022, up 23% from the previous all-time high in 2021. One in every 74 people on earth has been forced to leave their home. By the time the U.N. report was published earlier this month, they estimate the number of refugees now tops 110 million.

The people who are refugees include 62.5 million who are “internally displaced,” meaning they have been forced out of their homes but have not left their country’s borders. Another 29.4 million are externally displaced and almost 6 million are stateless Palestinian refugees. There are currently 5.4 million asylum-seekers like K. Worldwide. The remainder are other people in need of international protection.

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The war in Ukraine created the fastest displacement crisis since World War II, with more than 200,000 refugees, mostly women and children, crossing the border every day. By the end of 2022, there were almost 6 million Ukrainians displaced within their own border and 5.7 million seeking safety elsewhere.

Combined with refugees from Ukraine, those from Syria and Afghanistan make up 52% of the total number of refugees. Seventy percent of refugees who have left their country’s borders are hosted in neighboring countries and more than three-fourths are being hosted by low- and middle-income countries. The top hosting countries are Turkey, with 3.6 million, and Iran, with 3.4 million.

To enter the United States as a refugee, there is a lengthy 26-step process that can take years. In fact, according to Utah’s Refugee Services Office, refugees receive more screening than any other person coming to the U.S. Yet our numbers remain low. In 2022, 25,465 refugees were admitted to the United States, more than double the 11,411 admitted in 2021. France, the size of two Colorados, with a population of 67 million (compared to the U.S. population of 332 million) granted 38,798 asylum applications.

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Utah is known to be friendly to refugees, but we can do better. Utah helped resettle 1,434 refugees last year, coming in nationally at No. 11 in per capita refugee acceptance. Refugees need help finding affordable housing, furnishing and outfitting those homes and connecting with mentors who can help them navigate the educational system, play sports with teens and teach English.

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There are so many ways we can support refugees in our communities. Here are some of the organizations in Utah that are currently helping refugees.

  • Because He First Loved Us: A relational ministry to refugee families to meet spiritual, educational and practical needs through child and family mentoring and resource networking. 
  • Cache Refugee and Immigrant Connection: This organization is focused on helping refugees living in Cache County.
  • Catholic Community Services: One of the largest relief organizations helping refugees in Utah. 
  • English Skills Learning Center: Get trained to teach English to refugees and other new immigrants.
  • Granite School District: The majority of Utah’s refugee children live within the boundaries of Granite School District. They have a number of programs and always need additional volunteers.
  • International Rescue Committee of Utah: Another one of the big groups focused on helping refugees. They also have a short video explaining that your chances of being killed by a refugee in the United States are 1 in 3.64 billion. You are 4 times more likely to be struck by lightning. 
  • JustServe: Search by keyword “refugee” to find many opportunities to serve.
  • Lifting Hands International: This organization works with IRC and CCS to resettle families in Utah.
  • One Refugee: This organization helps refugee students pursue a degree from a local college by providing money for refugee education, enrollment counseling, tutors and opportunities for social networking.
  • The Refugee and Immigrant Center — Asian Association of Utah: Another one of the larger organizations helping resettle refugees in Utah.
  • Utah Health and Human Rights: This organization focuses on providing healing and hope to refugees and immigrants who have survived torture and severe war trauma.
  • Utah International Charter School: Located near a refugee population center, this school serves children from grades 7-12 who come from a number of different countries, speaking many languages. It helps them not only graduate from high school but prepare to enter the job force or college.
  • Utah Refugee Connection: Connect with URC to connect with many refugee needs and upcoming events in Utah.
  • Utah Refugee Services Offices: This is the state office located within the Division of Workforce Services dedicated to refugee support.
  • Utah Valley Refugees: This organization is focused on helping refugees who have landed in Utah County become self-reliant.

Edward Hale said it well: “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” Refugees need our help. Will we step up?

Holly Richardson is the editor of Utah Policy.

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