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Religious leaders laud Utah for its work with refugees

Published March 5, 2017 10:26 am

Roundtable • Group explores solutions to transitional discord.
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South Salt Lake • Suhad Khudhair fled her country in 2006 after she started receiving emails that threatened her for translating for Americans in Iraq. She and her two kids stayed in Egypt for three years before being allowed to seek refuge in Utah in 2009.

She joined three others involved in resettling and integrating refugees in Utah for a panel discussion Saturday hosted by the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable at the Center for Spiritual Living in South Salt Lake.

Khudhair worked as a housekeeper, taught Arabic, worked on a farm and volunteered for Catholic Community Services (CCS). Now, she is a housing coordinator for CCS.

Aden Batar, immigration and refugee resettlement director at CCS, said the organization tries to help refugees reach self-sufficiency in six months. He is a refugee from Somalia and says religious communities have a responsibility to take care of refugees.

Batar encouraged the community to not only advocate on behalf of refugees — who often don't know the political system well enough to advocate for themselves — but also educate those who are resistant to having refugees resettled in their communities, and correct misinformation about the refugee crisis.

The State Department had invited Rick Foster, director of LDS Humanitarian Services for North America, to speak on behalf of religious organizations engaged in supporting refugee work.

"The eyes of the nation are on this neighborhood," said Foster, who said Utah is nationally recognized for resettling refugees. He specifically praised the South Salt Lake community for its engagement.

"When the business owners step forward and they're willing to assist both immigrants and refugees, provide jobs for them, and be patient in that endeavor, a whole community is lifted," Foster said. "These people add to the fabric of our community."

Imam Muhammed S. Mehtar of the Khadeeja Mosque in West Valley City spoke of the importance of helping refugees adjust to the culture of their new homes while staying grounded to their roots.

Refugee children play a dual role, said Mehtar. At home, kids live traditionally, but at school, they change their clothes in an effort to fit in.

Part of his effort is to help people with the discord of transition.

"How can we help these people make a positive, good transition without sacrificing either value?" asked Mehtar.

People tend to trivialize and simplify their identities into particular groups, he said. For example, 1.6 billion people in the world identify as Muslim, and according to Mehtar, there are 119 nationalities in the Islamic Society of Greater Salt Lake. He said people are surprised to see the level of diversity in Islam.

"This is what I understand America is all about," said Mehtar, "where you can be an Iraqi, but you can also be a full-fledged, good American citizen."


Twitter: @tiffany_mf






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