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Who are Minnesota's refugees?

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Airport greeting
Fatima Osman of Moorhead, right, warmly welcomes Naeema Mohamed, left, at Hector International Airport in Fargo in November 2014. Five members of a Kurdish family arrived in Fargo-Moorhead that night, fleeing the violence in Iraq.
Ann Arbor Miller | MPR News file

One of Minnesota's largest refugee populations won't likely grow for at least the next three months, thanks to an executive order issued by President Trump late last week.

The order put a four-month ban on any refugees coming to the United States, immediately halting a program that resettled some 85,000 people who were displaced from their homes due to war, famine or persecution. Trump indefinitely halted any Syrians — whose country has been bloodied by a civil war — from coming to the U.S.

In addition to Syria, the order banned people from six other Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. for 90 days — including refugees.

Just over 1,400 Somali refugees arrived in Minnesota in 2016, according to the State Department. Somalis made up the largest group of the more than 3,000 refugees who arrived in Minnesota that year, but they represent only a piece of the story.

Refugees arrived in Minnesota from 25 different nations in 2016 — including five of the seven countries whose immigration to the U.S. was frozen by Trump's order.    Here's some background on the state's most recent refugees.

Aidarus Aden, a refugee from Somalia, holds a sign.
Aidarus Aden, a refugee from Somalia, holds a sign at the airport on Sunday to protest President Trump's executive order barring new refugees.
Christopher Juhn for MPR News

Where are Minnesota refugees from? Where do they live in Minnesota?

Refugees from Afghanistan, Belarus, Bhutan, Burundi, China, Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Moldova, Myanmar, Nepal, the Republic of South Sudan, Russia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Tanzania and Ukraine all arrived in Minnesota in 2016, according to the State Department.

The largest contingent by far was from Somalia — 1,405 Somali refugees arrived in the state in total last year, according to State Department data. Just over 700 Somalis resettled in Minneapolis alone.    The second-largest group was from Myanmar. Of the 658 total refugees from the country who arrived last year, 391 went to St. Paul and 183 to Minneapolis.

Other large refugee arrivals to the state included 126 people from Bhutan, 98 from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 277 from Ethiopia, 167 from Iraq and 80 from Ukraine.

Map: Where are Minnesota's 2016 refugees from?

MPR News map | Data from the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration Office of Admissions

How does a person become a refugee? 

To be considered a refugee under federal law, a person must live outside the U.S. in a place that gives the U.S. government humanitarian concern. 

In addition, potential refugees must prove they have been persecuted or fear persecution due to one of the following:

• Race

• Religion

• Nationality

• Political opinion

• Membership in a particular social group

People can be deemed "inadmissible" to the U.S. for certain reasons — a criminal history, their health or "security-related grounds" — according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Kaw Hai is the lead auto mechanic at SKD Auto Tek.
Kaw Hai is the lead auto mechanic at SKD Auto Tek in St. Paul, here in October 2016. He's a refugee from the Karen State in Burma.
Doualy Xaykaothao | MPR News file

Why are refugees leaving their homes?

There are many reasons people leave their home countries and become refugees. Syria and Somalia, for example, have both been ravaged by civil wars. Muslims in Myanmar have fled religious persecution. Many refugees have left their homes to escape terror groups.

The reasons change over time, too: After the Vietnam War, there was a surge in refugees from Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

And in the mid-1990s, Minnesota saw a spike in Bosnians seeking refuge that coincided with the Bosnian War. 

How many refugees from the affected countries have arrived here?

Trump named seven countries, all of which have a majority Muslim population, on a list of places from which refugees and most other people would be banned from entering the United States for at least 90 days.

According to federal data, here's how many refugees arrived in Minnesota from each of those countries in 2016:

• Iran — 11

• Iraq — 167

• Somalia — 1,405

• Sudan — 12

• Syria — 20

No refugees from Yemen or Libya resettled in Minnesota last year, according to the federal data, but it's possible people from those countries moved to the state in 2016.

Syrian refugees are indefinitely banned under the order. For the other six countries, the ban is set to last 90 days.

Why were refugees from these seven countries singled out in the president's executive action?

The White House has said the goal of Trump's immigration ban is to make the country safer. 

"The United States cannot, and should not, admit those who do not support the Constitution, or those who would place violent ideologies over American law," the order said.

The basis for excluding from the ban a handful of other Muslim-majority countries in the same region as the seven has been widely debated. Some critics have suggested it's because Trump has business ties in those other countries. Bloomberg reported that the order leaves out the Muslim-majority countries where the Trump Organization has done business.

And while the order mentions the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks by name, Saudi Arabia — the country where most of the hijackers were from — was excluded from the order.

Most members of Minnesota's congressional delegation have decried the order.