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Each year, roughly 1,200 refugees are resettled in Utah, according to Department of Workforce Services data, adding to a total population of 65,000 refugees in the state.
Those numbers don't include people who choose to move to Utah from outside the United States, University of Utah research professor Caren Frost said.
"That's just refugees," Frost said. "That's not immigrants."
Those in the steady stream of new arrivals, Frost said, come from a wide variety of backgrounds and circumstances and, in many cases, face difficult challenges related to education, employment and language.
To meet those challenges, the U. is launching the Center for Research on Migration and Refugee Integration.
The center, led by Frost, will operate as a coordinating hub for refugee and immigrant services, as well as an academic resource center for newly arriving Americans in the state, Frost said.
The center will not be a physical location on campus, but instead will consist of a network of U. faculty and community leaders. "It's more about people than an actual physical space," she said.
It will also be the first center of its kind west of the Mississippi, Frost said, generating research on how to best welcome and integrate immigrants and refugees into mainstream communities.
"It's needed because we are a resettlement state, number one, and a very successful one," Frost said. "We have a number of people who immigrate in from a variety of other countries."
Frost said the center will initially be focused on refugee research, but will broaden its focus with the help and support of community groups.
A 2015 study for the Utah Nonprofits Association found at least 220 separate organizations offer 388 programs to help refugees in the state but efforts often are not coordinated and may not give refugees what they really need.
Frost said the center's goal is to provide some of that coordination by sharing information and plans between campus researchers and organizations like the Department of Workforce Services and Catholic Community Services.
The center also intends to combat some of the stereotypes surrounding refugee groups, Frost said, which have become increasingly politicized around the country.
"It's a current issue and it's an important issue," Frost said. "I think this is a really timely center."
Asha Parekh, director of the Refugee Services Office within the Utah Department of Workforce Services, said her office is collaborating with the university and working to create a vision and structure for the research center.
She said the center is in a position to help individuals with the transition to higher education and career training, while her office coordinates programs such as job placement and English-language services. "At the end of the day," Parekh said, "if you have a good job, it will change the quality of your life."
Parekh also said that a local research center will provide information on how to best meet the needs of refugees and immigrants within Utah and the Intermountain West.
"We want to make sure that all of the efforts, all of the programs, all of the work we do is the most effective, efficient way to help get refugees where they need to go," she said.
The Center for Research on Migration and Refugee Integration will be formally launched on Wednesday during an event at the U.'s College of Social Work.
Frost said the center plans to host a research conference this spring and a "Welcome Day" for high school students to visit the university campus.