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Refugees Breathing New Life into Ohio Neighborhood

Immigrant-owned businesses are helping revive some Ohio neighborhoods. (Kailey Sherrick)
Immigrant-owned businesses are helping revive some Ohio neighborhoods. (Kailey Sherrick)

December 31, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio - At a time of controversy for refugees in the U.S., a story of acceptance in an Ohio community is coming to light. The narrative of Bhutanese grocer Naresh Subba is featured in Belt Magazine.

He arrived on a student visa in 2002 and four years later, helped his family, friends and neighbors settle in Akron's North Hill neighborhood as they fled refugee camps in Nepal. Subba says with very strong support from the community, city and state, many immigrants are building a new life.

"That kind of positive attitude towards refugees or immigrants in general that's one of the positive steps towards getting these refugees to effectively integrate into the mainstream," says Subba.

While he has a PhD in nuclear physics, Subba opened a grocery store to provide immigrants with hard-to-find cultural staples. Student Kailey Sherrick from Cleveland State University, who penned the article, explains the influx of refugees has revitalized neighborhoods.

"They serve their communities, as well as any other native Akronites," says Sherrick. "There's jewelry shops, restaurants, clothing stores all over the place and it's really cool and it's really brought the economy back in North Hill."

A report from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs credits immigration with more than 54 percent of population growth in the Akron metro area between 2000 and 2010.

Subba says refugees face a challenging road as they adapt to an unfamiliar language and environment. Bhutan, for example, is not very industrialized.

"There is a big difference between the cultures we have in the U.S. and the cultures these people have been following," says Subba. "And the system is totally different than being in their homes, or in the refugee camps."

He credits the International Institute of Akron for its work connecting immigrants to housing, education and employment opportunities, and other basic benefits. The institute helps to resettle about 500 refugees a year from Bhutan, Myanmar, Nepal and other countries.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH