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Rising Above Negativity, Refugees Make Contributions in MN

For the fourth year in a row, the Minnesota Human Services department has handed out Outstanding Refugee Awards to ten recipients. (Adobe Stock)
For the fourth year in a row, the Minnesota Human Services department has handed out Outstanding Refugee Awards to ten recipients. (Adobe Stock)
September 28, 2020

ST. CLOUD, Minn. -- Political and societal tension has reached new levels this year in Minnesota, and prior to 2020, backlash against refugees had been building in some areas.

However, some refugees are looking past the anger toward them by trying to make their communities better.

This month, the state Human Services Department is recognizing ten people who came to Minnesota as refugees for their contributions.

Farhiya Iman, a social worker based in St. Cloud and a native of Somalia, teaches classes about her native country's language and culture.

"Very small conversational things in Somali, so if they wanna, you know, talk to their neighbors, if they want to talk to a client or a customer, small things like that where they can connect with other Somali citizens in our community," Iman said.

Iman feels this approach can go a long way in making inroads with longtime residents, as opposed to directly responding to hateful messages from those who resent refugees.

The issue escalated last year when the Trump administration sought to give more powers to state and local governments on whether to accept refugees. Supporters of that move cited a concern over local resources becoming strained.

But refugee advocates say these individuals are willing to, and often do, make contributions soon after their arrival. Migrant economists note that they engage in higher levels of entrepreneurship.

Ku Mo, a University of Minnesota student, is another award recipient this year. She volunteers as a translator for fellow refugees from Thailand.

"I came with no English, and my family knew no English, my parents knew no English," Mo said. "But because I developed these skills, I want to use these skills to help others."

Mo said by helping others become settled, they can in turn help their communities thrive.

The recipients hope their recognition shatters the mindset that immigrants are poor, vulnerable and dependent on government. In 2019, nearly 900 refugees resettled in Minnesota.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN