Questions for Reflection
In each episode, we offer you a few prompts to think about how that day's conversation applies to you. You might pause the podcast and answer them right then and there, but if you keep a journal (Steph and Beth both do), feel free to download and print a PDF of the Questions for Reflection we've made just for you:
Landscape or Portrait
Beth Demme (00:03):
Welcome to the Discovering Our Scars podcast.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:05):
Where we share our personal experiences so we can learn from each other.
Beth Demme (00:08):
Our mission is to talk about things you might relate to, but that you don't hear being discussed in other places.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:13):
Our hope is that you're encouraged to have honest conversations with people in your own life. I'm Steph.
Beth Demme (00:17):
And I'm Beth. On today's show, we're going to have an honest conversation titled Refugees in Our Backyard with Kristin. Hi, Kristin. Welcome.
Thank you for having me. Hey.
Beth Demme (00:27):
Introduce yourself to the folks who are listening.
Yes, so my name's Kristin Barnett. I live here in Tallahassee. I've been here back here for about four years. I grew up in DC and then I came here for school. My husband and I live downtown with our two sons. We're also foster parents. Yeah, loving placing roots here.
Beth Demme (00:48):
You guys have a nonprofit called Neighborly?
Yes. Our nonprofit organization is called Neighborly, and it's essentially a relationship-based poverty alleviation organization. All that really means is we focus more on people than programs, and we work in various sectors, and so, one of those initiatives is with refugees.
Beth Demme (01:06):
Yeah, I'm excited. I realized, or learned, or came to understand, that we have refugees being resettled in Tallahassee through the International Rescue Committee because the church that I serve is walking distance to an apartment complex that seems to be like their initial landing place.
Beth Demme (01:25):
That's where the IRC places them and we were getting ready for a fall festival, and one of my volunteers came in and said, "There's a man outside who said he needs to see the pastor." I was like, "Okay, that's me. Cool, I'll go see him." He was this wonderful guy, Ajmal-
Beth Demme (01:39):
Who you also know, who had literally just come to the US from Afghanistan. His family was in that last push because he had worked with the US Embassy. I got to meet him and his wife and his two sons. Then, about that same time, you and James and I were talking about kind of what Neighborly had going on and how my church could be involved in it. That's when I realized, oh, you have a lot of experience working with refugees through the IRC, yeah?
That's been a more recent partnership, but yeah, and it's informal, but yes, we like to come alongside. The IRC provides those core services. They get federal grants from the government to resettle, and they've resettled almost 400 by the end of this year, which is quite a bit.
Beth Demme (02:28):
Just here in Tallahassee?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (02:30):
However, we found that there's a gap because caseworkers can't actually be friends with their clients.
Beth Demme (02:38):
There's professional boundaries. While they do receive housing and educational opportunities, English classes, documents, food stamps, they don't really receive those, what I would call, soft services that are necessary to actually thrive in a new community and so that's what we aim to do, introducing ourselves and just showing them things like, "This is the best playground to take your kids," or, "These are some of the opportunities here in Tallahassee that can be fun for you to learn," or, "This is how you ride the bus," things like that. It's been really fun.
Beth Demme (03:14):
Even where and how to buy groceries.
Beth Demme (03:18):
Right. I mean, it's a whole new culture. It's a whole new system. It's a whole new place. Actually, that day, that first day that I met Ajmal, he said, "We don't have anything." I said, "Okay, the church will help you." He said, "No, no, they've given us money. I have a debit card."
Beth Demme (03:36):
"But I don't know where I can use this."
Beth Demme (03:38):
It's like, "Oh, okay. We can help with that."
Beth Demme (03:40):
Yeah. A lot of its guidance. What we really try to not do is solely give stuff because we don't want to be in the place of us being the givers and them being the recipients. Again, it's like a partnership. Yeah, just showing people the ropes of how systems work and introducing them to culture. Like you said, the fall festival, maybe that year they didn't know what it was, but then the next year they can come back and know, "Oh, on this week in America, people dress up and kids get candy."
Beth Demme (04:09):
It's all foreign. That was really fun for us to show the Afghans specifically their first Halloween.
Beth Demme (04:15):
We actually took a couple families to Beard Street. It was very overwhelming, but if anyone knows, listeners hearing, Beard Street's just one of the biggest Halloween parades in Tallahassee.
Beth Demme (04:25):
It's like where you want to go for trick or treating.
Beth Demme (04:28):
It was very idyllic.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (04:31):
When Beth told me about this, I was so surprised. I had no idea we were a place where refugees were sent, and it was just so cool to hear the story. Is this something where you got involved once they were sent here or you got involved before they were even sent here? How exactly did that work?
Yeah, that's a good question. Personally, I had wanted to work with refugees starting in college. Quite honestly, I think it's because of where I grew up in DC was a very diverse area. I had introduction to the concept of refugees, but most of my friends who were from different countries were not actually refugee status. That's a special classified status. They just came from different parts of the world. When I moved here to Tallahassee, I knew that that was present, but at the time, the numbers were much lower. It was all just had knowledge. That's what I got my master's in studying asylees and migration. When I first moved to Atlanta with my husband, James, Atlanta's one of the largest cities in the US for refugee resettlement.
There's actually a town called Clarkston, and it's the most ethnically diverse square mile in the country.
Beth Demme (05:40):
Oh, I had no idea.
It's really neat. You drive around, signs are not in English, they're in literally a hundred different languages. That's where I first started to have relationships. I mentored a family from Eritrea for a little bit, and then I also-
Beth Demme (05:53):
I literally could not point to that on a map.
Beth Demme (05:55):
I have no idea what Eritrea is.
It's a small country right next to Ethiopia.
Beth Demme (05:59):
They're one of the top, not places in the US for resettlement, but top countries in Africa where there's a lot of movement out because of ethnic persecution. It was super eyeopening. You knew I'd go and while I was matched with a family, anytime I went to the apartment, it was like all these different family members just coming out of different rooms. I know Beth has experienced this, but the food is just a really big part of the culture, and so every time you go, you must be hungry, you must be ready to eat goat stew or whatever that they're preparing.
Beth Demme (06:39):
Yeah. Even when it's something that is pre-prepared and Kristin's like, "Eat it." I'm like, "I don't want to." She's like, "Just eat a little bit." I'm like, "I don't want..."
But the issue is once you eat it, then they get more.
Beth Demme (06:54):
So you've got to pace yourself.
Beth Demme (06:56):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (06:56):
Beth Demme (06:57):
I don't like nuts. All of this is nuts.
A funny thing I noticed is sometimes the tea is traditionally served, but frequently Monster would be served.
Beth Demme (07:06):
It's really random.
Beth Demme (07:08):
So I'm like, "I don't don't know if I can drink a Monster now."
Stephanie Kostopoulos (07:09):
Oh my gosh.
Beth Demme (07:10):
They probably think it's such a treat.
Yeah. Then I started to do more of the educational side. I would teach English to migrants from Latin America in Atlanta for a few years. Then we moved to South Dakota for my husband. He was going to be a pastor at a large church there. What was exciting for me is that was the first time, professionally, I'd always been in the legal field, paralegal, legal assistant. When we moved to South Dakota, that was the first time where James is now, he's still working for an organization, but he's co-opted by them and he's getting paid a salary. He's not raising his funds anymore. That freed me up to quit the legal field because that was never something I was passionate about and actually do what I was passionate about. I worked for an organization that's in the same vein as the IRC, called Lutheran Social Services, and it's the same thing. They're just another resettlement provider. I got to do, it's called English literacy and training for elementary students who are refugees.
It seemed like a dream job. It was just very challenging and difficult because a lot of them had trauma and they're young, and I was the only adult in the room. It was clearly not, we're not going to do tutoring, we're going to just hang out and spend time and kind of talk. It kind of turned into more of a counselor role, which I wasn't really equipped for, but I really enjoyed. Then I started working for the school system, and it's different, I don't think Tallahassee has this, but in South Dakota there's quite a few refugees who are resettled there because of the factories, there's a lot of meat factories and agriculture. You'd get refugees from all over Africa, the Congo, a lot from Asia, and they would actually be placed in classrooms that were solely for them. It was kind of like this micro school within a school.
I was essentially their liaison so it was really fun. Every time the bell rang, I'd go with them from class to class and just be their representative. That was probably the time that I most learned about all the different refugee groups, kind of challenges, hurdles, and they were teenagers and so I kind of got to learn a little bit more because of their age. That kind of prompted me into realizing this is exactly what I want to do in my career. When we did move back to Tallahassee, Neighborly didn't have a program like that. We primarily worked overseas and with people experiencing homelessness. That started my exploration of what are the needs? What does it look like? Beth really was one of the first people that I explored that with because of her church's willingness to partner. That's kind of funny, but also I think freeing, our first project was a failure because we're trying to figure out what could this look like?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (10:08):
We have our own ideas of, "Oh, this is what I would like potentially if I was a refugee," but I'm not their culture, and so-
Beth Demme (10:16):
It was such a good idea.
Beth Demme (10:18):
It was like a mom's morning out, but not morning out. Moms would come and they would socialize with each other and they would bring their kids and we would-
Have a tea party.
Beth Demme (10:26):
Yeah, and she brought all of this lovely food and these beautiful dishes, and we were ready to sit on the floor and just hang out.
Beth Demme (10:33):
And then it was just us.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (10:36):
You guys are really setting a picture. You guys have this wonderful vision of, "This is what they want, so this is going to be so great," and they're like-
Waiting for them to-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (10:44):
"We've got stuff to do. Why are we here?"
Yeah. I think what we realized later is, and specifically we had invited Afghan women, and now this is not representative of Afghan women in general, but what I found is while their husbands would go off to work and the women are home, either by themselves or with their children, I just assumed, well, that sounds, it can be a long day, so this could be a fun thing for them to look forward through towards the week, but those women really just prefer to be at home. But they did want community. They did want company, but to do that, you have to enter their home. It wasn't common for them to leave their space-
Beth Demme (11:25):
And specifically walk down, even though it's only a block away, to a church that's not-
Beth Demme (11:30):
Not a Christian location, that would be-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (11:33):
That's kind of how we pivoted.
Beth Demme (11:34):
Even though we are very welcoming.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (11:37):
Beth Demme (11:37):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (11:38):
I can see that though.
Beth Demme (11:39):
How do you communicate that? Also, it just wasn't something that they were really looking for. Even though if Kristin and I were refugees, it would 100% be what we were looking for.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (11:47):
Beth Demme (11:47):
We would totally want to be.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (11:50):
I bet it would be. Yes. What different life experiences you guys have had versus them. Yes.
Beth Demme (11:54):
Do you have any idea? You mentioned in South Dakota there were factories and things, and that makes sense to me.
Beth Demme (12:00):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (12:01):
Beth Demme (12:02):
I mean, what are they going to do? Work in state government? I don't...
Stephanie Kostopoulos (12:05):
Please, please. That would be great.
Beth Demme (12:07):
That would be great. I'm wondering what opportunities there are employment wise.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (12:12):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (12:13):
Yeah, I don't know the origin of it, but in talking with other people, I think Tallahassee is just one of the other cities. It's not the biggest city in Florida that people are resettled to, that would be more down south, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, or Orlando. But there still is industry here being at the capitol, and most refugees are not going to get government jobs. But I think the thought is that it's still a semi large city. I mean, maybe we have quarter of a million at best, and the factories are not in Tallahassee-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (12:46):
But there are meat factories and they have to go a little ways up to Georgia. A lot of the industry that refugees tend to work in are the hotels. That could be a reason. There's a lot of tourism here and travel. Quite a few are housekeepers or house cleaners in hotels. It's a really difficult job and does not pay that well, but it's still something. Some of the populations, like Ajmal, they're refugees for different reasons. Afghanistan was a specific event when the Taliban took over and Kabul fell. The majority, technically almost all of the refugees who came there had special skills because they were tied to the US government. All of them knew English at varying levels, a lot at high professional capacity. They worked with a World Bank or the Wall Street Journal or the embassies. In theory, yeah, they could have those and do have those upper level jobs, but then they leave. Most of those folks that I came to become friends with, they left.
Beth Demme (13:51):
They haven't stayed in Tallahassee.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (13:52):
Where did they go?
DC, California, Virginia. Which makes sense, but it's always sad.
Beth Demme (14:00):
Yeah. It's always sad to say goodbye, but in some ways that's true of the population of Tallahassee in general, that we seem to be a... I mean the three of us have stayed, but other folks seem to kind of come and go.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (14:12):
Yeah, that makes sense. Are people being resettled in all states, just like in Florida? Because you said South Dakota is where you were before.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (14:20):
Is that just like every state has the same kind of thing, or are we more here?
Yeah, every state definitely has resettlement cities, the biggest receiver is California, and then I think Minnesota, quite a few. Florida's not even on the top five.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (14:37):
Beth Demme (14:39):
What's the difference between an immigrant, a migrant, and a refugee?
Yes. There's also other categories too.
Beth Demme (14:51):
Oh, cool. Okay.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (14:51):
Let us know.
Beth Demme (14:52):
See, we don't even know what to ask. We're like, "These are all three," but no, there's more.
An immigrant is someone who leaves their home country and moves to another country in hopes of permanency or long-term, primarily for work or better life. Migrants are similar, but there's no permanency guaranteed there. Migrants can also move within their country, and it's always for work. Migrants, you have migrant workers and they're majority in the agriculture or farming sector. Now you can be migrants in other sectors as well. Typically, migrants, it might not be the whole family. It might be the primary breadwinner is becoming a migrant to go to another place and to bring income back to their family, and they're also not guaranteed the same rights as an immigrant might because an immigrant is probably looking for naturalization or other documents.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (15:50):
A migrant is someone that would come for a season to work and then go back to their country? They're not wanting to stay necessarily.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (15:58):
They're just wanting to do a job and then leave.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (16:01):
Or they might stay for a very long time, but they're still classified as a migrant because they're just here for work versus pursuing all the other aspects of what it would mean to move to a new country. If I felt like God was calling us to go to France, we wouldn't be considered migrants there. We'd be considered immigrants. Refugee is a very particular category. Refugees were actually... There's always been refugees. We even talk about how Jesus was a refugee. He's fleeing the country he's born in because there's persecution of babies, sons. But it wasn't protected until 1951 after World War II, primarily because of the Holocaust and Jews being turned away in certain port cities. The UN had a convention, and then they defined it as someone who cannot stay in their home country for fear of persecution based off of five protected groups, so that's race, religion, nationality, ethnicity, and belonging to a particular social group.
We see that examples are the Rohingya, if you're familiar with them, they're Muslims in Myanmar. Muslims are a minority there. A lot of them have had to flee because of their particular religion and so now they're in, Bangladesh is a large one. There's actually a refugee camp in Bangladesh that's almost a million people.
Beth Demme (17:30):
That then turns into a long-term. There's really not hope for them to go back. But then the chance of refugees being resettled into a third country is about 1% of refugees worldwide. Today there's around 35 million refugees in the world. It does feel kind of daunting. I'm trying to think of other examples of refugees. If anyone's familiar with the Uyghurs in China, they're a minority ethnic group, kind of closer to Russia, and they're being systemically persecuted by the Chinese government. Even some of the Afghans who are here, most of them, it's more they came here because persecution of the Taliban, but because of a government association, so that would be political.
But some of the Afghans I've met are from a group called the Hazaras, and they're a minority, and they also are a different type of Muslim, they're Shia. That's the technical definition. However, there are a lot of refugees that are still called refugees because of war and might not technically be persecution of a specific group, like thinking of Ukraine, although you could argue that that's political. Then you have environmental refugees, but they're specifically called environmental refugees because climate change is not one of the protected categories. They're simply, they have to leave because their area was flooded, like the Libyan disaster that happened this past week when the dams broke. Yeah, it's very specific, but it also grants people a lot of rights and protections so that when they get to the US, I think there can be that misperception of, "They're just another immigrant," or, "How did they get here?"
There's a really long list of screening. They have to go first through the UN, and then there's another, it's called the International Organization for Migration, and then they're screened at all these different points. Then if the US is identified as their country, then the Department of Homeland Security gives them an interview. They're background checked by multiple other intelligence agencies, and then they go through a health screening. I like to say, if you meet a refugee, they're safe. They've been heavily screened and they just really want to be here, and they really want to just feel like they can breathe again.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (20:06):
How many people would you estimate are involved with getting one person, one refugee, to a country? That sounds like so many stages.
So many, hundreds. When you're in a refugee camp, it's usually protracted. The average refugee is in a camp for 10 to 26 years. So a lot of this.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (20:26):
Are they born there?
Yeah, a lot of the children are born there, so they might be ethnically Congolese, but they're actually born in Zambia, so then they come here. It's really-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (20:36):
What is it like? Do you know anything about refugee camps? Have you heard any stories, what it's like being in one?
I have, yeah, and they all are different. I think refugee camps are, of course, great in the sense that there is a place, but almost all refugee camps are plagued by scarcity. There is lack of water and food and health and resources. Some camps are so large and so established that they just do run like cities, so there's schools and hospitals and you can work. But in some refugee camps, there's one called Kakuma in Kenya, it used to be one of the largest, it's still quite large. The Kenyan government allows them to come, but they don't have freedom of movement, so they can't leave that area, so then they can't get jobs. Then you are reliant on those organizations providing services who certainly do so to the best of their abilities, like the World Food program, but they can't have much self-reliance. Of course people get really creative and think of ways to sell things and make money and grow.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (21:45):
Do they have houses in the refugee camp or is it like, I'm kind of envisioning bunk beds in a big room. Is it like that? Or is it more or a military base almost where they have their own houses, but it's all contained?
Yeah, they're all so different.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (22:00):
There are some that how you're describing, a lot of the Syrians would go to Turkey, and so they might make makeshift rooms with dividers in real beds in a huge facility like stadiums. But some of the camps are made from literally just tarpaulin and bamboo. The risk there is fire. They do just look like mini slums in a sense. Some of them are actual, look like tents, like camps, and some of them are shacks. It's not like they're in little houses with-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (22:36):
Neighborhoods, and yards.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (22:39):
Beth Demme (22:39):
It's not like someone has come in and built-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (22:41):
Beth Demme (22:43):
Built a large housing unit for them. I don't think that it's like that very often. I was in a refugee camp when I went to Israel and Palestine in February, and the refugee "camp" is a town at this point because folks have lived there for so long that they didn't have a choice really, except to build structures and to carve out roads and to make a way. But they're still considered, I think we're at the third generation on that refugee camp, and they're still considered refugees because the UN says they have a right to go back to the place they were evacuated from or that they were forced from by the Israeli government.
They keep their refugee status because otherwise they have to give up their claim on that right to go home. But I also have been working with two guys who recently came here from Africa and they went through Malawi, through Dzaleka.
Beth Demme (23:44):
They've shown me videos. In fact, there are some on YouTube, I can try to put one in the show notes, but of what Dzaleka is like, and it's like what Kristin's describing where it's like lean-tos. It's like they kind of put things together out of scrap material. The government of Malawi says, "Yes, refugees can be in this limited area that is fenced off and gated off and is meant to hold." When the UN first established it was meant to hold maybe 20,000 people. Now there are many, many times a multiple of that. The UN keeps trying to buy more land so they can have more people there. Finally, Malawi has said, "There's no more land." You've got hundreds of thousands of people in this space, and they're really being provided very minimal services. With these guys, I'm frustrated by their apartment. I'm frustrated by their living conditions. I sort of that to them. I'm frustrated that, for example, they have bees in their apartment. There's a beehive that has taken over.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (24:49):
Wait, the one that is in Tallahassee?
Beth Demme (24:50):
Yeah, there's a swarm of bees.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (24:53):
Beth Demme (24:53):
Well, the bees are on an exterior wall, but it's their kitchen wall where there's a window. Every time I go to their apartment, when you look in the strainer in the sink, it's filled-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (25:02):
Beth Demme (25:03):
With dead bees. I'm like, "Guys, this is not okay. It's not your fault. You have to talk to the apartment complex." They talk to the apartment complex, and the apartment complex says, "Bees are good for the environment, we're not going to do anything about it, and they won't hurt you." I'm like, "Okay, that's not an acceptable answer. You need to talk to them again." Now they don't have hot water. I'm like, "You have to talk to the apartment." "Well, we talked to the apartment and they keep coming out and they're not able to fix it." I'm like, "Then you have to tell your caseworker." "Oh, our caseworker is too busy. We can't bother her." They could tell that I was frustrated about the situation with their apartment. They're like, "Madam." That's what they call me, "Madam, you do not understand where we come from."
Beth Demme (25:41):
I said, "Okay, tell me more." Then they started showing me videos and that they didn't have a stove, they would cook on open fire. One of the things they asked me was, "How do we use this washer?" It was a dishwasher, because they had never seen one before.
Beth Demme (25:56):
I'm frustrated by the limitations of their apartment and the way things are falling down, but they're like-
Beth Demme (26:03):
When we show videos, when they FaceTime with the folks at home, people are like, "Yes, you've made it."
Stephanie Kostopoulos (26:09):
"Look at all the bees we have. It's so wonderful."
Beth Demme (26:12):
They've learned to coexist with the bees.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (26:15):
Who are they FaceTiming with? Family in the refugee camp?
Beth Demme (26:17):
Family, yeah. Some folks have family who have already been resettled to another part of the United States, and so they stay in contact with them that way.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (26:28):
You said 1% of people, refugees, get placed or less than 1%?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (26:35):
How in the world is it decided, like these gentlemen that Beth knows, how did they get placed in the United States? How does that happen?
Yeah, the answer is always very... When you're learning about it and researching about it, even on the UN websites, it's very overarching language, and just a general, "This is how we do the process." The specifics of why they picked this family over the other, even though they all had the same experience, I don't really know. Sometimes it's family connections, so if you already have family resettled in this country, of course they are going to try to reunite family. But still, those families do get separated. We hear many stories of like, "Oh, my sister's here." Sometimes it's even a child. "My child." Yesterday I was visiting with a man from Columbia and his two kids and pregnant girlfriend are still back in Columbia and he's here. But again, he is so happy to be here. I think that might be more of a situation where he now can get a job and provide for them, and that might just be normal. It's always hard to put my own feelings aside because, again, you try to put yourself in people's shoes, but you really cannot do that if you're from a different language and culture and religion.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (28:01):
Do you know, because obviously you've worked with these types of people for a while. Do you know people that do well that are resettled? Is it singles? Is it families? Is it young children, if they come here when they're younger than they, or does everyone thrive?
Right. Yeah, I was talking about this yesterday. Typically, the families who thrive the most, or the people who thrive the most are two parent households with maybe some children, small families. With a larger families, that can of course be difficult. We see families come with eight, nine, sometimes 10 children or lots of very young children. When that happens, I'm a mom, I know how much childcare costs, so you can't really have two parents working. But when you have two parents who are able to work because their children might be in school, they tend to thrive most and it's all right financial, most of it is. Some of them, there's a family I know from Syria where they have six kids, but two of the children are no longer teenagers, they're early twenties, so now you have four adults in the house who can work. They just have a lot more options and then they are able to find housing that might suit them better and more opportunities. Of course, families who already have a grasp of the English language certainly tend to thrive because there's more opportunities and you can just connect more easily with the culture, kind of become more self resilient, going to the grocery store. Maybe you don't know how this works, but now you can ask yourself.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (29:43):
You mentioned that some of the refugees that you met have moved on to other places. Is that the goal? Is it the UN or the IRC that places them?
The UN through sometimes other organizations gives the IRC and the other resettlement agencies. There's nine in our country. It just tells them who's coming down the pipeline.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (30:06):
Basically, the UN decides and then hands it out to the organizations to settle?
Yes, and the organizations do have some leeway in saying, "No, we don't have the capacity for that right now."
Stephanie Kostopoulos (30:15):
But yeah, typically.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (30:17):
So the IRC is not just Florida, it's anywhere, they resettle them anywhere.
Correct. The IRC is-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (30:22):
Just one of the-
International, they're in all-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (30:25):
Yeah, and then there's eight other.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (30:27):
Yeah. Once they're placed, like in the apartment that Beth is talking about, is there a amount of time that the IRC pays for their placement there and helps them with things? Because you also mentioned the ideal is to get a job and then to maybe move on. Is there a timeline for all of that that everyone is under?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (30:51):
Yeah. Disclaimer, I'm not part of the IRC.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (30:55):
They are lovely. Some of the processes might've changed and I don't know. But typically as a rule in the US refugees get 90 days of housing covered. That's only three months.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (31:11):
That's really not a lot. The IRC does have a program now where organizations or church communities can adopt families and then that extends that to six months. But typically, it is much less than a year. Of course the goal is self-sufficiency, but that can be difficult, especially with larger families. I'll go and visit and they do have a large apartment and we just talk, and I found out, wow, their rent is more than my mortgage. That's really hard. That is a major challenge for them to be able to pay those bills. Another thing that people don't often know about is when they come to the US, that plane ride is not free. They have to pay back their flight.
Beth Demme (31:54):
I had no idea.
They have a loan from the government, and I don't know the terms of the loan, I think they do have maybe a couple of years to pay it off. But if you think of a family of 10 coming.
Beth Demme (32:07):
I mean, that's 15,000 minimum.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (32:09):
That's so odd though, because they're going to pay for the housing for 90 days, but not the plane ride? That's an odd concept.
I think that's more like the international organization.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (32:23):
Yeah, it is.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (32:26):
You get here, you have 90 days to learn the language, learn the culture, figure out something you can do, find a job in that thing-
Beth Demme (32:35):
And get all your paperwork done so that you have a social security number and you have all of your-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (32:40):
Well, yeah. Do they become citizens when they get here? How does that work?
There's generally a path for naturalization with most refugees. Right now, the Afghans are actually, it's pending. There's bills in Congress right now to figure out what's happening. They don't have that same guarantee because technically Afghans are not classified as refugees, they're classified as humanitarian parolees, so just different terms. The hope, I hope, is that, yeah, they also have a pathway for that.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (33:15):
It's not an automatic thing that you become a citizen. The refugees that Beth met, they're not citizens. It's a process.
No, not yet. But they have the right.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (33:25):
They have the right to be here and to work.
And the right to become citizens.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (33:29):
It just takes time.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (33:31):
Is it years?
I think it is years. Yeah, most of them have a green card.
Beth Demme (33:35):
But they can work in the meantime. What they've been, at least my understanding-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (33:38):
Do they pay taxes and things?
Beth Demme (33:40):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (33:40):
Beth Demme (33:41):
My understanding is once they have a social security number, they can begin to work. They can begin to look for work.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (33:47):
Oh, so you don't have to be a citizen to have a social security number?
Beth Demme (33:49):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (33:50):
Beth Demme (33:52):
No. Then after they get the social security number, hopefully the next thing that will happen is that they'll get their green card, but because they have this refugee status, they're allowed to work even before their green card comes through. From green card, they'll want to apply for naturalization, they'll want to apply for citizenship. It's a process. It's a whole process. I can't even imagine moving to another country with a different language and unpacking that process. I mean, the idea of it is overwhelming.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (34:21):
Who decides what term you are? Do they know the term they are when they're coming to seek something? Or do people that they talk to tell them, "Oh, you're a refugee, you're asylum." Because there's so many terms, how would you know?
Well, you're typically an asylum. You're an asylee if you haven't already been granted permission-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (34:42):
When you show up, versus you are a refugee if you are still in that second country, so the one that you've fled one, you're in a camp or you're in another country and you're waiting. Then you have something called internally displaced people, IDPs, and that number is even larger. It's twice the amount of refugees. There's about 70 million of those. Those, the only difference is they haven't crossed a border. They might have fear of persecution or sometimes it's again, like the environmental disaster. Moroccans, right now after the earthquake, they're internally displaced because their homes are destroyed and so now they're in a different city, so they also need a lot of those services, but they don't have the refugee status, and so they probably, they're not going to wait for the UN to resettle them somewhere else.
They don't want to either. I think that's another misconception. Most of the refugees, I don't know if I want to say most, quite a few, it's very dynamic, wish they were in their home country. They love it. They want to stay. They did not want that war, that conflict, that persecution to happen. Going back to the Afghans specifically them, one day, they're just in their beautiful home. One of our good friends, they had, essentially, a mansion. They showed us pictures, this huge beautiful compound with multiple vehicles and gardens, and then now they're in America and they are safe and they're grateful, but it's a very different quality of life. That was a struggle for them. Versus, you might have refugees from Asia or from Africa where they were in camps, and so coming here, it's the opposite. Oh, this is a lot nicer, if that makes sense.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (36:23):
There's all different stories and backgrounds, but I think some of the fear, the prejudice that comes when, not often, but when occasionally we talk about refugees or I share that I work with them, it's just that there's so much naivete because it's like... I've been asked by Christians, "Well, do they have their papers?"
Beth Demme (36:46):
Well, one, yes, and I'll explain the whole process to you, but two, tell me why it matters to you. Does Jesus ask for people's papers before he healed them?
Beth Demme (36:57):
That's difficult. Another big point is, generally, statistically, refugees actually contribute to the economies of the countries they're in over a long period of time. They are not a strain on resources because they get jobs, they start businesses, and they pay taxes. It's a boon to us. It is a benefit. Another thing that Beth and I do that I think is nowhere a full package, but just we're trying to always think, how are ways we can engage and interact and just show that they are loved and also provide things that are tangible needs that will help them grow. That was really fun for Beth and I. We applied to a grant together with the Methodist conference, am I saying that right?
Beth Demme (37:40):
Yeah. It was the United Methodist Committee on Relief, UMCOR.
Beth Demme (37:44):
But we applied for our grant and got it to provide bicycles.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (37:48):
Oh yeah, I remember you telling me about that. That's awesome.
Beth Demme (37:51):
Then my church was so excited about it. They're like, "Okay, we used all the grant money, but let's keep doing it."
Stephanie Kostopoulos (37:55):
Beth Demme (37:55):
So we're going to keep doing it because, yes, it's good to be able to use the bus, but our buses are equipped for bicycle riders and so it can really make a difference in your ability to have transportation-
Beth Demme (38:09):
Just to have access to a bicycle.
The hope is that we're helping a tangible need, and it's typically for transportation to a job, but for him specifically, it's English classes. He explained, "This is how long it takes me to get there on the bus." Of course, it costs money. So being able to have a bike does give him that freedom. I think it's always exciting to meet needs where he is actively trying to learn English and is committed and going to those classes four days a week and it's not easy.
Beth Demme (38:43):
Their English classes are four days a week, four hours a day. They do English classes 16 hours a week, and they can pick their classes to be either in the morning or at night, depending on when they work, so that it doesn't impair their ability to get a job, which I think is great.
Yeah, it's a really awesome program.
Beth Demme (39:07):
Kristin, thank you so much for taking the time to be here with us and to talk to us about the refugees that are living here in Tallahassee and expanding our understanding of that whole experience and everything that goes into it. We always like to ask our guests a question.
Beth Demme (39:25):
The question is, what book, TV show, or podcast are you excited about right now?
I typically lean towards, when I'm reading, I really love fiction. I will just go through fiction like fast food, and my favorites are thrillers or dystopian type of novel. That's what I've been getting into at the library. However, I am now trying to implement, from my brain, a way to every fifth book or so, read something that is a little bit more challenging, nonfiction, or that helps my spiritual development. Right now, I am slowly reading through, and it's funny, I say slowly, a book by John Mark Comer called The Relentless Pursuit of Hurry. It's really about the title, how America's culture is just constantly busy and hurrying from one thing to the next, and how that is so unhealthy, and so how do you find kind of peace in that chaos?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (40:19):
Are you reading it fast or slow?
I'm reading it very slow.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (40:22):
Okay. That seems like you should based on the title.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (40:26):
Well, we'll have to look that up. We'll put a link to that. Yeah.
Beth Demme (40:29):
Let everybody know where can people find out more about Neighborly and about the work that you're involved in?
Yeah. Our website provides all the information and ways for people to volunteer. It's called thatsneighborly.org, or you can just Google Neighborly nonprofit. Specifically with refugees, we have a multitude of ways people can get involved. Medical advocacy is a big thing, so helping folks make, get to, and do follow-ups with doctor's appointments, dentists, things like that. You need to get background checked. We also do English practice one-on-one and just, yeah, throughout the year, I'd say getting in contact and figuring out what your own passions are. It's been fun to take refugees trick or treating or to introduce them to holidays. Again, a lot of it's holistic, so it's like if you have an idea, we can pair you up with a family and do it.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (41:24):
At the end of each episode, we end with questions for reflection. These are questions based on today's show that Beth will read and leave a little pause between for you to answer to yourself, or you can find a PDF on our website.
Beth Demme (41:33):
Number one, have you ever had to start over? What was that like for you? Number two, reflect on what it would be like to be forced from your home, unwelcome in your country of origin and resettled in a brand new country. What do you imagine are the biggest challenges? Number three, have you ever been involved with a nonprofit? Has hearing Kristin's story inspired you to consider it? Number four, has this conversation made you look at immigrants in a different way?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (42:04):
This has been the Discovering Our Scars podcast. Thank you for joining us.