Refugees | St. Louis Public Radio

Refugees

A student works on an assignment in an introductory English language course at the International Institute of St. Louis. About 1,100 immigrants and refugees take English courses at the institute.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

Maryam Bakhtari trained to be a doctor in Afghanistan. She never thought there would be a time when she couldn't practice gynecology. But as a new immigrant to the United States, her chosen field is beyond her. These days, she's focusing on a different kind of learning.

Bakhtari takes English classes at the International Institute of St. Louis. She’s among the approximate 1,100 adults who take the classes every year. The International Institute has the largest English for Speakers of Other Languages program in the St. Louis region. 

Alaa Alderie, a Syrian refugee, is the owner of Cham Bakery in St. Louis.
File photo | Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

Alaa Alderie sought refuge in the United States several years ago, not long after Syrian authorities started looking for him because of his involvement in political demonstrations against President Bashar Al-Assad.

In 2012, he and his parents came to St. Louis, where his brother had arrived earlier, finding success in their new home. Alderie, who is Muslim, considers himself a “lucky refugee.” 

Nedim Ramic and Anna Crosslin discussed the issues refugees face today in light of World Refugee Day on June 20.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

Tuesday marks World Refugee Day, a designation made by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The number of refugees and displaced persons in the world is higher than it has ever been since World War II, with some 65.5 million people displaced throughout the world right now.

The International Institute in St. Louis provides integration services for more than 7,500 immigrants and refugees each year.
File photo | Marie Schwarz | St. Louis Public Radio

The International Institute of St. Louis is seeking ambassadors of sorts.

The organization that provides integration services for more than 7,500 immigrants and refugees each year is recruiting volunteers to help spread the word about how those foreign-born residents benefit the community.

The Rise & Scream poster gives the date and depicts a closed fist raised in the air.
Provided by Vincent Saletto

When Vinnie Saletto and his wife considered adopting a child from overseas, they turned to the International Institute of St. Louis to learn more about how immigrants fare in St. Louis.

As Saletto learned more about the Institute’s mission — and noticed an increasing wave of anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States — he felt compelled to support to the organization. So he turned to his passion, music, and began organizing a benefit concert for the institute.

The concert “Rise and Scream” will take place Saturday at 2720 Cherokee Performing Arts Center. About 90 people are contributing to the event —  from bands to artists, cooks to vendors. Many will voice opposition to the Trump administration's immigration policies.

The International Institute of St. Louis building.
File photo | Emanuele Berry | St. Louis Public Radio

A federal appeals panel's ruling last week lifted a travel ban for residents of seven predominantly Muslim countries, but it didn't change one crucial aspect of President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration: a 50,000 cap on refugees allowed to enter the United States.

That's is a significant drop, considering that the Obama administration raised the cap from 85,000 to 110,000 for the 2017 federal fiscal year, which extends from last October to this September. As a result, local organizations that resettle refugees, such as the International Institute of St. Louis, are finding themselves in a difficult position, having originally planned for a larger intake of people.

Soumya Chatterjee, a scientist at Saint Louis University, peers into a microscope in his laboratory, where he studies pathogens, such as tuberculosis.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

President Donald Trump's executive order last month reduced the cap of refugees allowed into the United States from 110,000 to 50,000. That means that fewer refugees will be resettled into areas like St. Louis.

But the cap also is curtailing disease research across the country. To understand diseases that are widespread in poor, war-torn countries, scientists study refugees from those nations that are infected with those diseases.

Grace Jo, now an American citizen, defected from North Korea at age six. She's now the vice president of NKinUSA, which advocates for human rights for North Koreans.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

As a little girl in North Korea, Grace Jo lived through one of the worst famines in North Korean history. While the official death toll from the notoriously most restrictive authoritarian country in the world is unknown, it is estimated that from 1994 to 1998, anywhere between 600,000 and 2.5 million people died of hunger.

Faizan Syed, Jessica Mayo and Anna Crosslin joined St. Louis on the Air to discuss the local impact of President Trump's executive orders on immigration.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

Last week, President Donald Trump signed a series of executive orders that sent the lives of many into chaos — in St. Louis and across the world.

Summer Albarcha stands with friends at a rally to show support for immigrants and refugees outside Sen. Roy Blunt's Clayton office. This week, Blunt released a statement expressing support for President Trump's executive order on immigration. (Feb 2, 2017
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Protesters gathered outside Republican U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt’s office in Clayton Wednesday to voice their opposition to President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily banning immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Hamishe Bahrani, at the restaurant she created with her husband: Cafe Natasha's. Bahrami sits in front of a wall of infused gins; her specialty.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

The call came in the middle of the night; Hamishe Bahrami’s childhood friend would be unable to visit from Iran.

“Today, she was supposed to arrive in St. Louis,” Bahrami said Monday. “She was so excited to come, visit St. Louis and see my life in person. We don’t know if we’re going to see each other again.”

Anna Crosslin is joined by St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay to talk about the importance of immigrants in the region. Jan 30, 2017
Erica Hunzinger | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis leaders are decrying the Trump administration’s executive order that bars refugees from coming to the United States for 120 days. The order also prevents those from seven Muslim-majority countries – Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia – from entering the U.S. for 90 days.

President Trump's executive order on immigration late Friday ignited nationwide protests — and a slew of legal challenges.

At least four federal judges across the country have blocked part of the order and temporarily ensured refugees and travelers who reached U.S. soil would not be deported.

Here's an explanation of what happened so far and what could come next.

Bosnians gathered near the Sebilj Fountain
File photo | Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

Affton High School teacher Brian Jennings will never forget watching former student Dino Svraka record an oral history contribution for the Bosnia Memory Project a couple of years ago. He’s still struck by how Svraka, a Bosnian American, captivated his students.

“That justified everything I’ve ever tried to do as a teacher,” Jennings said.

Jennings teaches a class on Bosnian American history in partnership with the Bosnia Memory Project at Fontebonne University. He began the collaboration about five years ago after meeting the organization’s executive director, Ben Moore.

Faizan Sayed, executive director of Missouri’s branch of the Council on American Islamic Relations, organized a news conference to speak out against current events in Syria.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Several of the 300 families of Syrian refugees who have settled in the St. Louis area this year are still afraid to publicly condemn their former government's attacks on Aleppo — even living so far away from their native country.

“They’re worried that someone’s going to see their picture or their [social media] feed on TV, they’re going to find out who [they are] and they’re going to hurt their family in Syria,” said Faizan Sayed, executive director of Missouri’s branch of the Council on American Islamic Relations.

Sayed reached out to at least 20 Syrian families asking them to speak at CAIR press conference Thursday denouncing the bombardment of rebel-held neighborhoods in Aleppo. Every single one turned him down.

Arjun Sidhu holds an American flag while sitting with his mother, Mandeep Sidhu, originally from India, at a naturalization ceremony held at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site on Nov. 10, 2016.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

While much of the nation remains at odds over the results of the November elections, some people are feeling more optimistic for the future than ever. Newly naturalized U.S. citizens in the St. Louis region are excited to be a part of the country, and many are raring to vote.

At a naturalization ceremony held last week at the International Institute of St. Louis, 39 people from 24 different countries stood together in front of a crowded room for the first time as new citizens.

Among them was Lenilson Pereira Dos Santos Coutinho, a clinical medial physicist who was born in Brazil. Coutinho, who came to the United States for graduate school, laments not being able to vote on Nov. 8. Now that he’s a citizen, he can’t wait for future elections.

Kamila Kahistani cast her first vote as an American citizen in 2016's November election.
Jenny Simeone | St. Louis Public Radio

In response to an outpouring of client concern, local immigrant advocacy organizations are hosting information sessions on what a Trump presidency will mean for St. Louis immigrants.

Among those who are concerned is Kamila Kahistani, who arrived in the United States with her sister seven years ago from Afghanistan. She was a refugee when she came via Russia, escaping war in her native country. Kahistani, who became a naturalized U.S. citizen five years ago, doesn’t worry about how immigration policy changes would affect her. But she does worry for the family members she’s petitioning to bring into the country.

St. Louis resident Imre Jokuti, who fought in the Hungarian resistance, drinks a toast to those lost during the 1956 failed revolution against the Soviet Union during a commemoration Friday, Nov. 4, 2016.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Friday marked the 60th anniversary of the Soviet Union's crackdown that ended the Hungarian revolution. 

Imre Jokuti of St. Louis fought with the resistance before he fled. He shared the memories of his escape from Budapest:

Imre Jokuti, who escaped from Hungary while fighting in the revolution, sings the Hungarian national anthem at St. Mary of Victories Church on Nov. 4, 2016.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Wearing a ribbon with the Hungarian flag’s red, white and green colors attached to his lapel, Albert Futo sang a hymn in his native tongue with the St. Mary of Victories Church choir in St. Louis Friday morning.

For Futo, this special Mass commemorating the 60th anniversary of Hungary’s uprising against the Soviet Union has personal significance.

One way to measure the growing turmoil in South Sudan is by the rapidly expanding refugee influx in neighboring Uganda.

A crowd of refugees press into a food distribution area at Pagirinya Refugee Settlement, one of the newest camps built to accommodate the latest arrivals in northern Uganda, just across the border from South Sudan.

Jonathan Taban, a father of six, explained that he's trying to see when he will receive food rations. He's been skipped twice now for a monthly allotment of grains, and he can't figure out why.

South Sudanese refugees wait to receive food rations in northen Uganda.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 3 p.m., Sept. 28 with Durrie Bouscaren's interview on St. Louis on the Air from Uganda.

Heavy fighting in South Sudan has pushed about 150,000 refugees across the border into Uganda over the past two months. In July, the World Food Programme cut food rations in half for residents of settlement camps who have been in the country for more than a year. 

The toll of the conflict is clear in refugee camps in the Adjumani District, near Uganda's northern border.

Donnie Harris, principal, Nahed Chapman New American Academy.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

Donnie Harris is the principal of Nahed Chapman New American Academy, located at 1530 S. Grand in the City of St. Louis. The school opened in 2009 as an “International Welcome School,” which provides a safe environment for immigrants and refugee students who have low formal education and struggle with limited English and, for some, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The school has 300 students from 24 different countries.

Sarah Paradoski and Ramona Marshall discussed the Immigrant and Women's Refugee Program on "St. Louis on the Air."
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

Imagine leaving your home and moving to a country that doesn’t share your customs, where you can’t understand the language and where you have to re-learn basic life skills in order to survive in your new context.

Most immigrants and refugees living in the United States don’t have to imagine these challenges. Learning to overcome linguistic, cultural and social barriers is just part of their reality.

Dzemal Bijedic and Adil Imdad started the non-profit House of Goods in 2015 in response to the needs they saw in the St. Louis community.
House of Goods | Facebook.com

When St. Louis city police chaplain Dzemal Bijedic responded to a call for help from a newly-arrived family of Syrian refugees last year, he couldn’t have imagined that it would lead to the creation of a non-profit organization called Bait Ulmal, which means “House of Goods” in Arabic, to provide supplies to those in need at no cost.

Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

Susan Gobbo, a native of Brazil, moved to the United States in 2005 and then to St. Louis in 2008 with her husband, who was offered a position stateside with Nestle Purina. Sounds like an exciting move, right?

One problem: Gobbo, a trained and licensed physical therapist in her home country, was not able to find a physical therapy job in the United States because many medical facilities viewed her as unqualified. The costs for training and recertification were high, so Gobbo’s high expectation of life in the U.S. deflated a little bit.

Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

Cecilia Nadal, the founder and executive director of Gitana Productions, remembers the first time she met Faraja Lungele, a 14-year-old refugee who came to the United States from Kenya after fleeing the Congo.  Lungele would repeatedly peek into rehearsals in the basement of St. Louis Public Library’s Carpenter branch in south St. Louis and quickly return upstairs, without saying a word.

After three or four sightings, Nadal pulled Lungele aside, they talked, and she found out that Lungele loved to sing and dance.

Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

The president of Maryville University’s Muslim Student Association wants to set something straight:

“People need to understand that the real face of Islam is the face you see in front of you right now,” said Shehmin Awan. “It is us three people. It’s the billions of people who are practicing peacefully. It is not the face of ISIL or ISIS or whatever you want to call it. It’s not the face of a terrorist.

Miron Kofman, a Jewish refugee from Ukraine, strikes a pose during a Hannukah celebration at Bilingual International Assistant Services.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

When you hear about refugees in St. Louis, you might first think about the Bosnians who moved here in the 1990’s, or maybe even the most recent arrivals from Syria. But every year, about 600 refugees from all over the world are resettled in St. Louis.  

So, who are they? Where are they from? Answering where they come from is easy: in the past few years, Somalia, Burma, Iraq and Bhutan have accounted for a significant portion of the refugees. Scroll down to see a chart of where they come from and where they settle.  

Bosnians gathered near the Sebilj Fountain
File photo | Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

Twenty years ago the Dayton Peace Accord put an end to the extreme violence and ethnic cleansing of the Bosnian War. But many St. Louis Bosnians feel the document left the country with no road to progress.

Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

When Shatha Alshati had her first American Thanksgiving dinner, there was one particular item on her plate that gave her pause: the turkey. The former Iraqi refugee who arrived here in 2009, said that while there are turkeys in her home country, they aren’t frequently eaten. 

A U.S. citizen as of April 2015, Alshati has perfected the art of serving a golden roasted turkey at the Thanksgiving dinners she now hosts.

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