Refugees add unique perspective
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Pittsburgh is home to about 6,000 refugees who, like other immigrants, encounter language barriers, difficulty finding work and culture shock. They also face challenges that are uniquely their own.
"We have to educate employers, particularly new employers, that refugees are legal, that they are employment-authorized," said John Miller, director of Refugee Services for Catholic Charities.
Refugees flee their homes primarily due to war or persecution, rather than for economic reasons. They have arrived in Pittsburgh from countries as diverse as Bosnia, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq and Liberia.
Each year through a federal resettlement program, the Catholic Charities Refugee Service provides social and employment services to between 115 and 250 refugees.
Working with more than 125 local employers, the service finds work for refugees that matches their skill sets. This can prove to be a challenge, however, as even obtaining a Social Security number can take four to six weeks.
But once a refugee is employed, Catholic Charities follows up with each employer and individual in order to provide further services, including an interpreter if necessary.
In spite of these obstacles, refugees possess one advantage over other immigrants: Refugees from the same ethnic group often are settled near one another. Therefore, refugee communities, especially in Pittsburgh, tend to be much more close-knit than those of other immigrant groups.
Approximately 95 percent of refugees who come to Pittsburgh end up staying. Those who leave do so primarily to join family members who have been relocated to other cities.
Although their lives can be difficult, refugees work diligently to improve their condition, and their hard work does not go unnoticed by employers, said Mr. Miller, who added that he receives frequent requests for their services.
First Published January 26, 2007 12:00 am