How does a refugee go from outsider to community member? | KUOW News and Information

How does a refugee go from outsider to community member?

Apr 28, 2017

Many refugee resettlement agencies have been in limbo since the travel bans came out.


The last time I spoke with Chitra Hanstad, it was February, after the first executive order was unveiled. Hanstad is executive director of World Relief Washington. She wasn’t looking forward to laying off caseworkers. But the travel ban was stayed. World Relief ramped up its resettlement efforts.  

I recently caught up with Hanstad. The second travel ban is working its way through the court system, but Hanstad still had to lay off some employees.

“It’s been hard to say good-bye,” she said. “We luckily only had to lay off four people.”

Even so, Hanstad doesn’t know what the future holds. Agencies receive federal funding based on the number of refugees they resettle. Under the travel bans, the U.S. will cut back the number of refugees into the country by more than half — or 50,000.

There may not be as many refugees coming in, but for those who are already here, they continue to need help months after their arrival. That’s when many folks come up against road blocks, said Hanstad.

“Once the child is in school, they need someone to advocate on their behalf. They might have medical issues and not know how to communicate with the doctor,” she explained. “With the slow down, we’re channeling more of our casework into that area.”

Many agencies like World Relief are regrouping and trying to come up with new revenue to keep them going. In this new focus, Hanstad’s goal is to help refugees not only thrive after they arrive, but to have access to economic opportunities, and to partake in the political process. “

"I think about my story and my brothers. We were immigrants here,” said Hanstad.  “What made the difference for us was we all feel that we’re stakeholders in our community.”

Hanstad wants to help refugees make the transition from being an outsider to being part of community.

Marwal Frotan and his family arrived in Seattle from Afghanistan four months ago. He came to the U.S. through the Special Immigrant Visas program for Afghan and Iraqi citizens who have worked with American troops or companies. I first met Frotan at the World Relief office. He was attending a jobs class.  

Frotan recently found a job driving a van five days a week, delivering packages in Auburn, Tacoma and Federal Way. He chuckles about being new to the area and already driving for a living.  “I’m become familiar with all the places,” he said.

Frotan said his work provides a device that helps him navigate the areas and keeps his deliveries on track. “Everything is put in there, and how many stop I have, how many package I should deliver,” he said. “It’s around 170, 175 package — everyday.”

Frotan said it feels good to work. His transition in Seattle has been smooth, thanks to World Relief, and to other Afghan transplants in Kent who have become his support group.

He and his wife will rely on them even more next month when they welcome their second child. Back in Afghanistan, his mother took care of his family. Here in the U.S., they’re on their own. His wife is worried.

“I told her no worries, I’m with you here," he said. "I will get vacation from work like seven, ten days. I will be with you.”

Despite the challenges ahead, Frotan said being here is good, especially for his family. Growing up in Afghanistan amid civil unrest wasn’t easy. He said he wants a better childhood for his kids. 

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