Moon Ji likes to watch through the window of his office as 50 giggling, book-clutching children clamor off a bus in the early morning light. He watches the children, smiling and swinging their lunches, as they make their way to the Refugee School at the Community High School.
They are his past - and his present.Moon Ji, a refugee who arrived from Korea 15 years ago, is now a specialist in the state's Division of Family Services. He works closely with Sherm Roquiero, state refugee coordinator, in providing programs for those who have fled their countries for a new life in the United States and, more specifically, in Utah.
According to Roquiero, there are about 10,000 refugees living in Utah. They have come from mostly Asian and European countries to make their lives and raise their families.
"These people are not immigrants who have a choice," Roquiero said. "By the United Nations definition, they are people who are persecuted in their own country because of their religious or political beliefs. Refugees are forced out."
The inflow created by the Refugee Act of 1980, which required each state to establish a coordinator as a conduit for federal funds, has slowed down in Utah. In the heyday, Roquiero said, Utah received $6 million and handled 200-300 refugees a month. Today the state gets less than half that amount and sees only 20 or 30 a month.
About 90 percent of Utah's refugees come from Southeast Asia. Most are young - the average age is 28 or 29, although Roquiero said they have been as old as 100.
"Usually, when they get older, no matter how bad the conditions, they don't want to leave their country," he said.
Each is sponsored and living arrangements are made before he arrives. But the state coordinator and his staff still work with refugees on mental health issues, training, education, foster care for unaccompanied minors and social adjustment. The staff is multi-lingual, and the refugees seem to have at least survival English skills. Many are fluent.
Despite the preparations for a smooth transition, some problems are inevitable.
"There are tremendous problems," Roquiero said, "like language, culture and a lot of guilt feelings after the honeymoon period. Once things start to settle down, they think of other members of the family, of what they left behind."
He called it delayed stress syndrome. "The people literally are survivors just to get here."
Moon Ji said treatment of the problem can take many forms. "For some, we try to make them so busy they won't think about it . . . but delayed stress syndrome comes eventually anyway." "
Still, Utah's program is a success, Moon Ji said.
"I heard most of the refugees in California (which has the highest number in the nation) are on welfare. All of those in Utah become economically self-sufficient relatively fast. We can give them a little cash and medical assistance for up to 18 months, but they share apartments to save on rent and find work and success, depending on how much they commit their lives."
The coordinator and his staff have layers of goals. The big one is repatriation - to smooth over problems so a refugee can return home if he wishes. Almost as important is creating a world where the refugees can work and mingle and celebrate life.
Throughout, there is the refugee's reality. He has traveled a long distance to join a different culture.
Phay Panh (pronounced Pie Pon), who arrived in 1980 from Cambodia, knows that many Americans cannot comprehend the struggle that brought him - and others - here.