Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Department of Workforce Services would be able to extend a limited number of services for refugees under a bill endorsed Wednesday by a House committee.
The federal government funds services such as English language instruction, emergency assistance and treatment for victims of domestic violence for eight months after a refugee's arrival.
HB321 would authorize the Department of Workforce Services to extend the period of time the state could offer those services for individuals who need them. The House Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee gave unanimous support to bill, sponsored by Rep. Ronda Menlove, R-Garland.
Menlove said refugees resettled in Utah range from university-educated adults who have a mastery of the English language to people who have lived in refugee camps for generations and are illiterate in their own languages.
Some refugees require additional assistance to learn English. Some women and children are victims of sexual violence and require therapy.
This summer, state lawmakers, Gov. Gary Herbert and state refugee ambassador Thurl Bailey visited Sunnyvale Neighborhood Center to observe a class of adult refugees learning English.
“It was fascinating to observe that classroom, just to see those women a little later in their lives trying to learn a new language, a new culture — well, a new everything,” Menlove said.
She is seeking an appropriation of $1.5 million to fund the needed services.
Gerald Brown, director of the state’s Office of Refugee Services, said about 99 percent of the refugees resettled in Utah live in Salt Lake County.
Some 60,000 refugees have been resettled in Utah since the end of the Vietnam War, Brown said. The state continues to receive refugees from Myanmar, Nepal, Somalia and Sudan.
“This summer we expect people to come from the Congo. This will be one of the most difficult refugee populations to resettle that we’ve encountered in a long time,” Brown said.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo has had ongoing conflict for more than two decades. According to the advocacy organization Refugees International, “the conflict in DRC has been characterized by high levels of sexual violence perpetrated by armed groups and the Congolese army.”
More than 2.5 million Congolese are internally displaced, and more than 460,000 people have fled into neighboring countries, the organization's website states.
“We expect also this summer for refugees from Syria to start arriving to the United States and Utah,” Brown said.
There are some 16 million refugees worldwide, and less than 1 percent are resettled in the United States, Brown said.
“Those who get here are survivors," he said. "They have a lot to offer, but it is necessary to give them a hand up in the beginning. That’s what Rep. Menlove is trying to help us do here.”
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