Utah refugees:A Snapsot

Just last month, the third iteration of President Trump?s travel ban was deemed unconstitutional and halted by a federal judge. And while Mr. Trump?s third attempt to stem immigration from several mainly-Muslim countries has again failed, most are unaware that he has indeed succeeded in staunching America?s yearly intake of refugees.

The Trump administration announced in September they plan to cap refugee intake at 45,000 next year, much lower than the Obama administration?s 110,000, and the lowest cap since 1980. Today, nearly 1 in 100 people in the world are displaced, according to the Pew Research Center, altogether around 60 million as of 2015. That means the U.S. has been taking less than one percent of the world?s refugees, even before Trump?s refugee cap, and that number?s only going to decrease.

For Utah, this means our refugee resettlement will go down one third to about 800 each year, drastically affecting the financial support local refugee resources receive for the work they do. And this work is ongoing- after becoming settled, many refugees also require ESL courses, job training and interpretation services for everyday tasks like attending doctor appointments and getting a driver?s license. The process of resettlement is a long one, and can determine the future success of refugees looking to make a home in our state. Despite the lawlessness of Trump?s contentious travel ban, it begs an important question- how much do we know about Utah refugees?

Approximately 60,000 refugees live in Utah, according to the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, and between 35 and 40 percent of these are children. Over the years, the number of refugees resettled in Utah have fluctuated slightly, like national levels, based on world events. In the early 2000s most refugees came from war-torn Ukraine, Kosovo and Bosnia, while today they originate mainly from the Middle East and Africa, current sites of conflict and genocide.


When we filter refugee intake by ethnicity, we find that most seeking asylum in Utah represent countries like Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Burma and Syria. These trends mirror violence in those nations; 2016 saw increased human rights violations in the Congo, and the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Burma have forced more than half a million refugees into neighboring Bangladesh alone in recent years, according to the Huffington Post.

Intake data from the Utah Department of Health shows another trend- the country of ethnic origin refugees belong to isn’t necessarily the country from which they immigrate on their way to America. Historically, certain conflict-prone nations experience widespread migration that find refugees moving across borders before immigrating to the U.S.

While the refugees of some countries (like Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo) are born in those countries, others immigrating from nations like Iraq, Afghanistan and Ethiopoa are only arriving from that area, and not ethnically from it. This is crucial to understanding how the flow of refugees are created, and how we can be more knowledgable in our approach to certain demographics; for instance, a Burmese refugee immigrating from Malaysia will speak a different language and require a specified cultural approach. Below, a look into the various countries represented by incoming Utah refugees.

Among this year?s influx of refugees?

954 Total number of refugees arrived in Utah, 2017

23 years Average age

49 percent/ 51 percent Portion of refugees who are women versus men

We know where they?re from- where are they now?

The Utah Nonprofits Association?s 2015 capacity report shows the majority of Utah?s 13,800 refugee households densely concentrated within five zip codes in Salt Lake county, most prominently in South and West Salt Lake. These areas don?t necessarily have adequate refugee services, though- only three of the five aforementioned zip codes make the list of most service locations.

Of Utah?s 388 individual programs that serve refugees, 253 of them serve them alongside the general population. This isn?t ideal; the Utah Nonprofits Association cites as their main contention the inability of general programs to help refugees integrate into their larger communities, but does admit that the lack of integrated programs is mainly due to funding constraints.

This funding is crucial to providing adequate training and resources simply to help refugees return to normalcy. Apart from the obvious linguistic and cultural differences that come with forced immigration to a new country, ensuring and restoring good health naturally becomes a priority. Extended periods in refugee camps often result in malnourishment and disease, and mental health issues are just as critical to treat. Rates of PTSD in settled refugees generally hover between 10 and 40 percent, a whopping 5.8 times higher than the national average, according to the 2015 Utah Refugee Mental Health Subcommittee. Refugee adults are twice as likely than the general population to suffer from major depression, and refugee adolescents 12 times as likely.

These conditions -often the result of war, trauma and torture- must be addressed to ensure success in education and job training, other fundamental aspects of resettlement. And to do so, resettlement agencies in the state require consistent funding sources. Below, we can already see that health takes up a significant portion of the Refugee Services Office funding apportionment.


For Catholic Community Sources and the International Rescue Committee, Utah?s two main resettlement agencies, state funding is allocated based upon the number of refugees assisted. And as that number shrinks under our current administration, such organizations become limited in their reach, forced to cut corners to stay afloat.

In the face of federal legislation, there isn?t really a simple solution, but active volunteering and petitioning for grants or external funding may help. The true goal of refugee resettlement isn?t just saving at-risk communities, but helping them integrate into our own, and that?s impossible without individual effort. To learn more about Utah refugees or explore the data used to power this piece, head here.


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