New Virginia Tech study addresses controversy over refugee integration

Published: Sep. 6, 2018 at 11:17 PM EDT
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When Morris Pham first came to the US in 1985 as a refugee, he says he spoke little english and knew fewer people.

"I have a new life when I escape from Vietnam to America," he said.

Thirty three years later, Pham owns a successful business in Roanoke, Vina Cafe, and sent both his daughters to college.

"I'm happy in America to build up a new life," he said.

In a new two-year study called International Refugee Research: Evidence for Smart Policy, researchers at Virginia Tech examine what it takes to create a success story like Pham's.

"Of course they will need the basics of life from housing to food to taking children to school," said Georgeta Pourchot.

Pourchot is the coordinator of the International Refugee Research Project and editor of the study.

She says that, in the US, after about a year of government and non-government assistance, refugees can stand on their own two feet.

"They become contributing members of the society that they are relocated in, Pourshot said.

Refugees also tend to feel accepted by their community.

The combination of these two factors, Pourshot said, means that the refugees can be considered fully integrated.

She cautions though that for some groups, this is changing.

The study found prejudice faced by recent Iraqi refugees has kept them from becoming fully integrated into their new American homes.

"We need to think responsibly because they are all human beings," she said.

In Roanoke, groups like the Commonwealth Catholic Charities may use the study to determine how much aid to give to new refugees, and when to give it.

The study comes as a record number of people are displaced around the world, according to the United Nations.

Some are forced to leave their homes because of violence, such as refugees fleeing from the Syrian Civil War, while others flee because of drought and famine.