June 20, 2010
Not all of the immigrants arriving in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky are from Mexico or Central America.
Instead, think Bhutan. Burma. Eritrea. Somalia.
They're brought here because the federal government recognized them as refugees, and the Catholic Church agreed to resettle them here.
The lack of money and volunteers limits how many refugees - 131 in 2009 and another 112 so far this year - are brought to Cincinnati through the Refugee Resettlement Program of Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio.
Small communities of refugees also are concentrated in the Florence area and are sponsored by the Archdiocese of Louisville, which oversees refugee resettlement in Kentucky.
"This is not an unwelcoming community, but we need to be gingerly about it," said Rod Huber, director of Family Services and the refugee program for Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio. "There are people who oppose - and do strongly - immigration of any kind. It's the nature of the city."
Regionally, Cleveland seesabout twice as many refugees as Cincinnati and Louisville three times the number, Huber said.
Cincinnati celebrated World Refugee Day over the weekend, joining the global show of solidarity created by the United Nations in 2000. It recognizes the survival, success and overall resiliency of people forced from their homelands.One of the larger groups of recent refugees coming to Cincinnati is Bhutanese. About 250 people from the land-locked Asian national arrived in the past two years.
Five of the seven members of Khadka Neopane's family came to Cincinnati on July 29, 2008, and have since found jobs, schools and an apartment in Colerain Township.
They were among the estimated 106,000 ethnic Nepalis forced from their native Bhutan in 1991.
The Neopane family lived in one of the seven refugee camps in eastern Nepal. Home then was a 150-square foot house with bamboo walls, plastic roof, dirt floor and no electricity, heat or plumbing. Thousands died in cholera outbreaks before the United Nations improved sanitation conditions.
The U.S. government announced in 2007 that it would consider taking 60,000 Bhutanese refugees.
"We heard it was powerful and big, better opportunity, a wide area," said Ghana Neopaney, 25, a son whose last name was incorrectly spelled with a "Y" on his immigration papers; immigration officials advised him not to try to have it corrected.
He studies bio-medical engineering at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College and works as a bagger at the Mt. Airy Kroger.
One of the family's daughters, Som Sutar, 21, and her husband, Purna Sutar, will arrive here June 24.
The family is happy in Greater Cincinnati. Khadka Neopane works in the laundry at Aramark. Son Hem Neopane, 20, attends Cincinnati State as a nursing student and works at a McDonald's.
They are part of a tight-knit Bhutanese community - living downstairs from another refugee family - that helps each other with transportation, driver's licenses and English"Life here is very secure," Ghana Neopaney said. Family members, including mother Kamala, who does not speak English, all have their Green Cards and are working to become U.S. citizens three years from now.
"We had no land; what was under our feet was not ours. We had no country," he said. "We don't want to stay that way. I want to say I am an American."
Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio also brings in refugees from Burundi, Cuba, Eritrea, Iraq, Mauritania and many other countries.
The local Catholic Charities office is part of a network involving the U.S. Department of State and Department of Homeland Security. Once here, refugees receive basic food, clothing and shelter needs through Catholic Charities. Case managers help with health screenings, English classes and job contacts.
"They come with just the clothes on their backs and a big old pack of (immigration) papers," Huber said.
The long-term goal for refugees is help them become self-sufficient.
About three-dozen employers - hotels, restaurants and food service and pharmacies, grocery stores and other retailers - work closely with Catholic Charities to provide jobs. Garfield Suites and the Hyatt Regency have been especially helpful in recent years, said Huber, resettlement director since 1984.
The Bhutanese, who live in groups in Finneytown and Hartwell, in addition to Colerain, are doing their part. They're working.
Ghana Neopaney wants his fellow Bhutanese to do more as they become Americans.
"I would like the Bhutanese youth not to sit and watch and just be satisfied in (entry-level) jobs," he said. "We need to make sure we go to school and take advantage of all of our opportunities in the United States. Let's make our future better."