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Ilgin Karlidag, Spring 2013 Students

Refugees taking shelter in San Diego face adaptation challenges

By Ilgin Karlidag

San Diego is a hub for refugees and immigrants who face language and culture barriers to adapt to American culture.

However, although San Diego County has a higher refugee admission than other counties in California, the refugees have to face challenges of adapting into a new society.

According to an investigative report by Human Rights Action and Human Rights Institute Georgetown Law, many resettled refugees from Detroit to San Diego end up jobless and even homeless.

According to the report, employment services are not properly funded, English language training is insufficient, and transportation is inadequate. These are the main reasons why refugees face difficulties adapting and assimilating to the American society.

However, the Kurdish Human Rights Watch (KHRW), an organization aiming at helping refugees to integrate successfully into a new society, is trying to solve the problems of insufficient language and unemployment.

Refugees in San Diego attend a class at the Kurdish Human Rights Watch to learn English.

Refugees in San Diego attend a class at the Kurdish Human Rights Watch to learn English.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

· At least 5.000 refugees were
relocated to San Diego in 2012.

· Refugee admission to San Diego increased
by 374 percent from 2005 to 2010.

· Refugees come from countries such as: Afghanistan,
Iran, Iraq, and South East Asian and African countries.

KHRW provides refugees English teaching courses and a program called “Limited English Proficiency Initiative (LEPI), which informs refugees on how to protect themselves from discrimination.

Program Director of KHRW, Chinar Hussein, said the refugees would not be able to get a job unless they attend school 35 hours per week.

“I see a lot of good results because they’re in school almost six to four hours a day,” Hussein said.

The refugees have to go to school at KHRW for a year before they can attend community college, according to Hussein.

“Some have gone straight to college after one year,” she said.

Maritza Rodriguez, an English teacher at KHRW, said she does her best to stop the students from speaking in their own language in class.

A majority of the refugees who attend English classes already have an education, according to Hussein. Some educated refugees have a degree in for example engineering, which they received in their home countries, prior to fleeing to the U.S., Hussein said.

ESL teacher Sheila Davis helps refugee students how to adapt to American culture and society.

Dr. Mehdi Sarram, an Iranian nuclear physicist, was working as a professor at the University of Tehran, Iran, until the Iranian Revolution in 1979 when he fled to the United States, which caused him to leave his home country and flee to the United States.

Sarram said refugees, including him, do not flee their countries because they want to, but because they’re forced to.

“When you have no food, when women get killed, and when they are abused, people take a chance to improve the quality of their lives,” Sarram said.

“If you open the doors of America today, out of 75 million Iranians, 50 to 60 million will crawl and swim to come to America, and they don’t come for jobs; they just want to be free,” he said.

The Kurdish community in San Diego remembers the Kurdish victims of the Halabja genocide in 1988.

 

The challenges of adaptation

There are cultural issues of arriving in a country in which the norms and cultures are different and alien, according to Ricardo Ruiz, who teaches a class in globalization at San Diego State University.

The ability for both refugees and immigrants to assimilate and find their place in daily life is a huge obstacle, and the 2008 global economic crisis added complexity to it, according to Ruiz.

“You have the issue of the economic crisis and situation not only facing average Americans but also the obstacles refugees would face, including language barriers,” he said.

There is also a gutting of language programs and work programs are pretty much non- existent, according to Ruiz.

Sometimes refugees don’t even have the legal right to work, which not only fuels the black market and working under the table but also makes it hard for the refugees to challenge exploitation, Ruiz said.

“So they escape persecution and find themselves in a similar position here, although not as extreme but it is somewhere of a paradox,” Ruiz said.

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