Boise Refugee Dialogue: 'We Need to Make People Realize We Are a Global Society' 

click to enlarge In 2014, 227 refugees were resettled in Boise from Iraq, Somalia, Congo, Bhutan, and Burma. - KELSEY HAWES
  • Kelsey Hawes
  • In 2014, 227 refugees were resettled in Boise from Iraq, Somalia, Congo, Bhutan, and Burma.
Past hearbreaks and hopes for the future were center stage at the Boise Library's July 18 conversation, "Global Boise: Meet Your New Neighbors," at the library's Hillcrest branch. The event, part of the library's "Conversations!" series, brought together Boise resident to discuss the city's growing refugee population.

“Our clients are becoming integrated members of the community,” said Maria Babushkina, casework supervisor at the Boise offices of the International Rescue Committee.

When organizers asked the gathering what thoughts came to mind when they first heard the term "refugee," one attendee said, "I think of fleeing."

The IRC defines a refugee as anyone who must cross a national border in order to flee war, persecution and political upheaval. Currently, there are nearly 16 million refugees around the world—a comparable number to the World War II era. Boise remains one of the many United States cities that offer formal refugee resettlement services, but Babushkina was quick to point out that life in the U.S. for a refugee is far from easy.

“There is so much bureaucracy," she said. "It really is a burdensome process."

Founded in 1933 at the suggestion of Albert Einstein, the IRC now operates in more than 40 nations, with 22 offices in the U.S. Boise’s office takes on an average of 300 resettlement cases annually. In 2014, 227 refugees were resettled in Boise from Iraq, Somalia, Congo, Bhutan and Burma.

Both Babushkina and Jessie Berner, medical caseworker at the IRC, said housing remains one of their agency's pressing concerns when helping to integrate a refugee into the Boise community. Housing occupancy rates can be as low as 0.1 percent during the winter months in the city. The IRC workers also stressed the importance of talking about many of the everyday aspects of refugee lives.

“I am Congolese, not African,” was one of the many anonymous responses submitted during a survey led by the IRC that highlights the misconceptions refugees must face in their new homes.

“A lot of people get lumped into refugee or regional categories,” said Babushkina.

The IRC and other resettlement agencies are typically allotted federal funding for only the first eight months of a refugee’s time in their new home. That poses many issues to groups like IRC, yet the group never turns down someone in need. The key, Babushkina said, is effective communication.

“I cannot solve your problem if I don’t know you problem,” she said. 

Later, Berner told Boise Weekly that conversations such as Saturday's were crucial to help sustain Boise's global dynamic. 

“We need to make people realize we are a global society,” Berner said.

  • Hannah Loveless

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