Resettled: The Lives Of Refugees In Colorado

Mohamed Hassan / Pixabay

At a community center off Main Street in Fort Morgan, Colorado, 25-year-old Sitina sits near the window, fidgeting with her set of keys. Once this interview is over, she’ll race home to make dinner for her family: a husband and two young kids. She worries about whether she’ll make it to bed on time. Her Saturday shift at the Cargill meatpacking plant starts at 5 a.m.

Esther Honig

Between the high cost of housing and shrinking federal funding for local organizations, many refugees resettled in Colorado find themselves stuck in chronic poverty. That’s according to new research from the University of Colorado Boulder, which studied refugee communities across the Front Range. 

Xiaoling Chen, a geography doctoral student,wanted to understand why refugees became trapped in low-wage jobs, despite the state and federal resources intended to help them succeed.   

Esther Honig / KUNC

Abdul Ghani Bin Abdul Munaf strolled through the halls of Greeley Central High School on the way to his next class. Ghani, the name he goes by, is 18 and has attended the school since January 2018.

"The school (was) a little big and I was really nervous," he said. "Like I'm a first time. Nobody know me, who I am and where I come from."

Ghani is a Rohingya Muslim. His parents are originally from Burma, also known as Myanmar, and immigrated to Malaysia before he was born.

Enas Alsharea
Esther Honig / KUNC

The inside of Enas Alsharea's office is small, but tidy. There's a coffee mug on her desk with a photo of her smiling kids on it.

"This is my daughter, Abby," she said, showing off her space. "She's 11 and in the fifth grade. This is my son Haydar. He's in first."

Alsharea is a health navigator for a refugee medical clinic in Aurora. She schedules appointments and does interpreting for the newly resettled.

She likes her job, but it's a far cry from her time as a practicing dentist in Baghdad, Iraq.

Abdiwahab Hade
Esther Honig / KUNC

For Fort Morgan Mini-Halal Market owner Abdiwahab Hade, business is just in his blood.

His father owned a restaurant back in Somalia. Hade started working there when he was 13, he said. At 17, he took over the business.

In 2007, when he came to the United States, Hade started out like many refugees in the area by working at local meatpacking plants. The jobs are easy to pick up, don't require English skills and pay better than other similarly skilled employment. Hade worked at both JBS in Greeley and Cargill in Fort Morgan. But he had dreams of doing something different.

Abul Basar
Esther Honig/KUNC

At his one-room apartment, 35-year-old Abul Basar made a tight fist with his right hand. As he opened his palm, his ring finger remained bent and rigid. "It's locked my finger, (it) doesn't work," he said.

Basar came to the area as a refugee in 2017 after escaping violent persecution in his former country of Burma, also known as Myanmar. He said he fled to Bangladesh and then Thailand and eventually Indonesia, where he was detained for nearly a year by immigration authorities. Today, he's relieved to be in the U.S.

Esther Honig / KUNC

The Trump administration has cut the number of refugees allowed to settle in the U.S., citing security concerns and a desire that they remain closer to their home countries. Last year, 981 found homes in Colorado — far fewer than in years past.

The change has created a degree of sadness among those hoping to bring their families here, said Kit Taintor, Colorado's refugee resettlement coordinator.

"There's a lot of refugees who live and reside in Colorado, and call it home, who have been waiting for the opportunity to rejoin with family members who are still overseas," said Taintor.

This week, KUNC is sharing stories from our state's refugee community.