Saturday is Twin Cities World Refugee Day. The United Nations refugee agency reports that Minneapolis and St. Paul have both been among the top five cities for refugee resettlement in the last decade.
More than 29,000 refugees from Somalia, Thailand, Laos, Liberia, and other countries have fled war and persecution to find a new life across the state of Minnesota over the last 10 years.
Fatuma Elmi came to Minnesota from Somalia in 1991. She now works at Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota to help new refugees adjust to their new lives here.
Elmi spoke with Tom Crann of All Things Considered on Friday about what draws so many refugees to the state.
An edited transcript of that discussion is below.
Tom Crann: Where are your most recent clients coming from?
Fatuma Elmi: Burma, basically Karen, Bhutan and always Somalia, and Darfur.
Crann: Generally, around the world, if it's possible to generalize, what sort of situations are they escaping from?
Elmi: Again, it's always the same: civil war. For example, Burma, the last many years they had a dictator and dictatorship, although right now they're moving to democracy. They still have some issues within different tribes, and so right now the people who come in from Burma are Karen.
Crann: What is it about Minnesota that draws refugees here?
Elmi: It's not just to say 'Minnesota Nice.' But it's really nice, apart of the weather. We're coming from a Third World country where you don't rely on the government's help. People need to support their family and get a job, and of course the first couple of months, the government of the state of Minnesota helps refugees with aid...
Most of the directly resettled, we place them into a job, and of course because of the community keeping growing, the other second immigration has started coming, and looking for a job. We [do] whatever we can to help them find a job and ESL class and so on.
Crann: Is it that Minnesota and the Twin Cities have a pretty strong, whether it's an economic climate for finding jobs, or a strong support system for ESL?
Elmi: We have five agencies here that resettle refugees..... They're all connected with the respective churches who help to welcome the refugee and support the first couple of months, in order to find them whatever they need.... Of course, the family who is here and friends, they're always there to help them.