Minnesota Refugee Population

mpsstpaulThere are currently 25.4 million refugees in the world today who have been forced to flee their homelands because of persecution based on their race, nationality, religion, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. One of the most common questions asked of Arrive Ministries staff is “how do refugees get chosen to come to the U.S. and Minnesota?

The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) is only one of many ways the U.S. supports the protection and search for durable solutions for refugees in the world. In fact, third country refugee resettlement is often the method of last resort.

The United States is a nation founded by immigrants. Because our founding fathers understood what it was like to live under oppression, they enshrined basic human liberties in the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. Among these are democracy, freedom of religion, speech and assembly, protection from cruel and unusual punishment, and the right to due process of the law. These are things which many people around the world live without, even today.

For over 200 years, the U.S. has offered refuge to people fleeing persecution in their home countries. The Statue of Liberty stands today as a universal symbol of freedom and democracy.

Immigrant Tradition

Minnesota has a rich tradition of welcoming immigrants and refugees. In fact, in the year 1900, immigrants made up 29% of Minnesota’s population, two-thirds of whom were from Germany, Sweden, and Norway.  In 2000, immigrants made up only 5.3% of Minnesota’s population. One common misconception about immigration “then and now” is that immigrants in 1900 assimilated faster than they do now. However, we forget that Minnesotans in 1900 could go to a church service and read a newspaper in their home language, and may have lived and worked with people from their home country.

Refugees are a specific category of immigrants who have fled persecution in their home country, are unable to integrate into another country, and have no other durable solutions. Many times refugees come from camps, where they were warehoused for years or decades with no possibility of returning home or settling in the neighboring country.

Since 1979, Minnesota has welcomed more than 109,000 refugees directly, and many others have moved to Minnesota from other states. The largest groups historically were Hmong, Somalis, Vietnamese, Ethiopians, Liberians, Cambodians, Bosnians, and people from the Former Soviet Union. The most recent refugee groups to arrive in Minnesota include Karen and other refugees from Burma, Nepali-speaking refugees from Bhutan and Iraqis. In total, Minnesota has received refugees from over 100 countries since 1979.

Why Minnesota?

There are many reasons why refugees make their new home here in Minnesota. Their motivations are similar to those of other Minnesotan residents – good schools, robust social services, an active arts community, relatively low unemployment, and friendly, welcoming people. Refugee communities have thrived in Minnesota in the past, taking advantage of historically high employment and affordable housing. New refugees continue to come to Minnesota to join family, friends, and well-established refugee communities.

Did you know?

  • Minneapolis is home to more Somalis than any other city in the U.S.
  • St. Paul has the largest Hmong community in the U.S.
  • The Liberian populations in Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park are some of the largest communities in the U.S.
  • St. Paul has a growing population of Karen, a minority ethnic group from Burma, and is currently the largest in the U.S.
  • There are five Somali malls in the Twin Cities.
  • Babani’s, a restaurant in St. Paul was the first Kurdish Restaurant to open in the U.S.
  • The Philips Neighborhood is the most diverse in the entire US. with over 100 ethnic groups represented in the neighborhood
  • You do not have to go far to find delicious ethnic food, exotic spices, produce, or ethnic markets. The International Market Directory published by the University of Minnesota lists over 85 ethnic restaurants, markets, and places to experience the culinary diversity of the Twin Cities.

Major refugee groups recently resettling in the Twin Cities:

  • Former Soviet Union
  • Iraqis
  • Karen and other groups from Burma
  • Somalis
  • Ethiopians

Former Residents of the Soviet Union in Minnesota

FSU-FlagRefugees from the former Soviet Union came to the U.S. through the Lautenberg Amendment, a provision under the 1990 Foreign Operations Appropriations Act. This program has closed to new applications, however, cases that had been previously approved under the program are still arriving.

The Lautenberg Amendment gave refugee status to citizens of the former Soviet Union belonging to certain religious groups which had been persecuted by the Communist government.  The categories protected by the U.S. include Jews, Evangelical Christians, Ukrainian Catholics and Ukrainian Orthodox Christians who have immediate family members lawfully residing in the United States. To come to the U.S. as a refugee under this agreement, one must prove that he or she is a member of one of these protected categories but does not need to prove well-founded fear of persecution as an individual.

Refugees resettling in Minnesota under the Lautenberg Amendment most commonly come from the countries of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine.  These Russian-speaking refugees are reuniting with their family members, many of whom are well established in the west metro area.

Important Facts:
• The Russian-speaking community in Minnesota has grown to over 12,500
• The Lautenberg Amendment was extended to October 2013

For more info on migration from the former FSU, read:

Refugees Magazine Issue 98 After the Soviet Union

Iraqi Refugees in Minnesota

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is the primary entity tasked with ensuring the protection of refugees in countries of asylum in the region. Resettlement to the US or one of nine other resettlement countries is a possibility for only a limited number of these refugees. The UNHCR has eleven criteria to determine if resettlement is appropriate, including Iraqis who worked for the Multinational Force in Iraq, the US government or US companies, households headed by women, torture survivors, and members of religious minorities.

Many Iraqi refugees who have resettled to Minnesota are highly educated professionals and successful businesspeople including doctors and engineers who speak English. For this group, one of the most frustrating realities of resettlement is that they lose the value of their education and training and cannot practice their profession in the US without going through a lengthy and complicated – many times impossible – recertification process.

Important Facts from UNHCR:

• More than 4 million Iraqis have been uprooted due to violence and human rights violations with 2 million in Syria and Jordan and another 2 million internally displaced

• One in seven Iraqis is now uprooted with a further 2,000 estimated to be fleeing daily

• Largest population movement in the Middle East since 1948

The number of Iraqis in Minnesota is difficult to estimate. According to the 2000 census, Iraqis in Minnesota numbered only 500. However, a Special Agent of the FBI’s Minneapolis office, which interviewed Minnesota Iraqis for homeland security purposes in late 2002 and early 2003, says about 1,000 Iraqis live in the metropolitan area alone. In Minnesota, most Iraqis live in Fridley, Coon Rapids, and Brooklyn Park. 2013 estimates, with new refugee arrivals, place the number of Iraqis in Minnesota at about 2,000.

Minnesota is also home to the restaurant Babani’s, famed to be the first Kurdish restaurant to open in the United States.

Additional Resources:

Iraq in Minnesota: An Information Resource for Journalists & Citizens  McGill Report

Fact Sheet: Iraqis in Minnesota  Statis Health

From Iraq to Minnesota: A New Life  NPR (2008)

The Karen in Minnesota

Within the borders of the country of Burma (now called Myanmar) are many minority ethnic groups including the Karen, Karenni, Rohingya, Shan, Mon, Chin, Kachin, and others. These groups have their own language and culture, many govern their own territory, and some even had their own monarchy. These groups have been fighting for their freedom for almost 60 years. They have suffered horrific human rights abuses through the ethnic cleansing operations of the ruling Burmese military junta who sees their existence as a threat to their absolute power. As a result of the ongoing war against minority ethnic groups, more than two million people have fled Burma as refugees.

The Karen (pronounced Ka-REN) are the largest ethnic group participating in an insurgency against the military junta of Burma. The junta’s position against the Karen people can be summed up in a statement rumored to have been said by a Burmese military official, that “In twenty years, the only Karen person you will see will be in a museum.” Currently, about 150,000 refugees from Burma, mostly Karen, are living in protracted refugee situations in camps on the Thai side of the Thai-Burma border. Some refugees have lived in the camps for twenty years. Hundreds of thousands more Karen people live precariously in the border areas or in Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps on the Burmese side of the border.

In 2005, the U.S. opened the option for resettlement for registered refugees from Burma living in nine refugee camps in Thailand. Many Karen families who fled Burma and Thailand have settled in Saint Paul, MN, which has become home to the largest and Karen groups in the U.S. The number of Karen living in Minnesota is estimated at about 7,500. St. Paul is also home to the first Karen-led nonprofit agency in the U.S., the Karen Organization of Minnesota.

Important Facts:
• More than two million people have fled Burma as refugees
• about 150,000 refugees from Burma, mostly Karen, are living in protracted refugee situations in camps on the Thai side of the Thai-Burma border
• An estimated 7,500 Karen now make St. Paul, Minnesota home.

Additional Resources:

The Border Consortium (TBC) has been working on the Thailand-Burma border for over 25 years. TBC is a consortium of 12 international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from ten countries providing food, shelter and non food items to refugees and displaced people from Burma. TBC also engages in research on the root causes of displacement and refugee outflows. Programs are implemented in the field through refugees, community based organizations and local partners. The TBC is an excellent source for information about refugees from Burma and situations in the refugee camps (including photos and maps).

The Free Burma Rangers (FBR) is a multi-ethnic humanitarian service movement. They bring help, hope and love to people in the war zones of Burma. Ethnic pro-democracy groups send teams to be trained, supplied and sent into the areas under attack to provide emergency assistance and human rights documentation. Together with other groups, the teams work to serve people in need. The FBR website offers videos, maps, photos, and reports about the situation of ethnic minorities from Burma.

The Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG) is a local, independent group documenting the human rights situation in rural Burma by working directly with rural villagers who are suffering abuses such as forced labour, systematic destruction of villages and crops, forced relocation, extortion, looting, arbitrary detention, torture, sexual assault and summary executions. This is another resource for maps, photos, and reports about the situation of the Karen in Burma.

Drum Publication Group is a small, independent, Karen community based organization dedicated to promoting education and preserving the cultures of the peoples of Burma. They have downloadable Karen language resources (learn to speak Karen!).

Karen Konnection is a website with the purpose of helping the newly-resettled Burmese Karen to connect with American Baptist-USA and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship churches throughout the U.S. It hopes to help churches and church leaders hosting Karen congregations to connect with each other to share resources and ideas, and to help the Karen scattered across the country and around the world to re-connect. This effort is the new work of Duane and Marcia Binkley who are being jointly appointed by ABC-USA and CBF to oversee this Karen support initiative. The Karen Konnection website is an excellent resource for churches working with the Karen.

Karen language resources (learn to speak Karen!)

Karen Teacher Working Group – Karen Language Resources

Somalis in Minnesota

Somalia is a country on the eastern edge of Africa, often called the “Horn of Africa”.  The population of the country was between 7-10 million (before 1991).  Somali’s speak the same language by and large, which is Somali.

During colonial times, Somalia was divided into Italian Somaliland (southern Somalia), British Somaliland (northern Somalia), and French Somaliland (Djibouti).  The north and the south gained independence in the early 1960’s and united to form one country, Somalia.  This country had a democratic government until there was a military coup in 1969, led by Siad Barre.  He maintained power until a revolt within the country started in the late ‘80’s in the north and eventually led to him fleeing the country in the early 1990’s.

Different clans fought among themselves to gain control of the country, which led to civil war and anarchy.  A resulting famine, exacerbated by the civil strife gained world attention, leading to U.N. and finally U.S. military involvement.  After the killing of U.S. troops, they all pulled out of Somalia.

From that time to the present, Somalis have fled the country and many have lived in refugee camps in Kenya, Ethiopia and Tanzania.  Many Somalis were resettled in Europe, Canada, and the U.S. Currently, Minnesota has the largest number of Somali’s in the U.S, estimated to be around 77,000 or more. Why here?  Somalis originally came to Minnesota because of the good economy and low unemployment.  More recently they have come because there is a recognized community here — Somali shops, businesses and restaurants.

No discussion of the Somali people would be complete without discussing their religion, which is Islam.  To be a Somali, is to be Muslim.  With the war and displacement, many Somali’s have seen their difficulties as a judgment of God (Allah), for not correctly practicing their religion.   In response to this, there has been a revival of religious observance.

Additional Resources:

The Somalis Cultural Profile (1993)
from Cultural Orientation Resource Center

Somali Adult Literacy Training (SALT)
Are you interested in teaching English to Somali adults? Learn how you can volunteer with Arrive Ministries through our program SALT by clicking the link above.

Important Facts:
• Minnesota has the largest number of Somalis in the U.S. – estimated to be around 77,000
• Minneapolis is home to hundreds of Somali-owned and operated businesses offering a variety of products and services

Ethiopians in Minnesota

Since 1982 there have been over 6,000 Ethiopians who have been primary refugee arrivals in Minnesota. Ethiopia is an extremely diverse country in East Africa that has been troubled by war, political unrest, drought and famine which have forced many to flee. Three of the ethnic groups that have come to Minnesota are Oromo, Amhara and Anuak.

The two main religions in Ethiopia are Orthodox Christianity and Islam.