Since 2008, Northeast Ohio has received more than 2,500 refugees.

Refugees who come to the U.S. are invited by the State Department and are legal residents on the ultimate pathway to citizenship. They must wait one year to obtain a green card, five years to gain citizenship.

Refugees are individuals who have fled their country of origin and who meet the United Nations’ criteria of having a “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.”

Refugees did not choose to leave their original countries. Many have endured unspeakable horrors, including torture, rape, and witnessing the death of loved ones.

Fewer than 1% of refugees are ever resettled out of refugee camps. Most will live and die in the camps, and those who arrive in the U.S. have often spent more than 15 years in refugee camps.

Refugees are matched with one of ten private volunteer agencies (“VOLAGS”) across the Unites States that receive and place refugees in their new homes. When the refugee arrives in the U.S., he/she is met at the airport by members from the assigned resettlement agency and taken to his/her new apartment. The resettlement agency assists with initial needs, such as applying for a Social Security number, school registration, and medical evaluation, as well as assisting with employment. Branches of three of the volunteer resettlement agencies serve Cuyahoga County.

Refugees do not receive “a free ride” and must repay all travel loans. Many programs are in place to help reach the goal of employment and self-sufficiency within the first year of arrival to Cleveland.

Since 2008, Northeast Ohio has received more than 2,500 refugees, most from areas of conflict across the world, including Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Most current refugees are arriving from Bhutan, Burma, Iraq, and Somalia. Approximately 500-700 refugees now arrive in Cleveland annually.

Refugees face many barriers upon arrival: unfamiliar language, customs, systems, technology, food, climate, etc.