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KERA's One Crisis Away project focuses on North Texans living on the financial edge.

Refugees Jump Financial Hurdles To Start Over In America

Courtney Collins
Hisham Batar, refugee and case workers with Refugee Services of Texas CEO Aaron Rippenkroeger.

One of the biggest challenges for refugees once they relocate is simply making a living.

More refugees are sent to Texas than any other state in the U.S. Getting them safe and settled is a serious undertaking.

Aaron Rippenkroeger is CEO of Refugee Services of Texas.

“A huge percentage of these people leave their home country with almost nothing at all,” says Rippenkroeger. “No possessions, maybe some family members, maybe not. So they’re really starting from zero.”

And he does mean zero. Sometimes refugees arrive in North Texas with empty wallets and no English language skills.

Which is where Refugee Services of Texas comes in. The non-profit provides welcome money, about 11 hundred dollars a person. That gets them started renting an apartment or buying furniture.

Staffers help people find work too, and boast a placement rate above 80 percent. Unfortunately, they can’t always get people jobs that line up with their skills.

“Some of these folks coming through the program are former doctors, former dentists,” says Rippenkroeger. “The Iraqi caseload in particular has some very high qualifications, but working with them on just getting them started in the U.S. workforce and then working with them over time to maybe develop to a higher.”

Hisham Batar is a refugee who’s also found his dream job. He’s a Area Director for the Dallas service center of Refugee Services of Texas. He also works cases.

“So when you get to the airport and you find that case manager waiting for you, it’s like what a relief, and you hang on to them.”

Batar is from Sudan, he fled as a 16 year-old to escape civil war.

“At a young age you have to leave or join the military. So I preferred to leave,” he says.

He went to India at first because he had a cousin there. New Delhi wasn’t easy.

“We didn’t have jobs we had to depend on the U.N., they helped us out with stipends every month,” says Batar. “We had to be homeless for some time. Just fighting for survival.”

By the time his finished college in India, Batar could speak four languages. He came to the U.S. 15 years ago, first San Antonio, then Dallas in 2014.

And the very process he went through inspired his career choice.

“That’s what the re-settlement agencies provide is, we’re going to be there for you, we’re going to help you, we’re going to guide you, giving you all the resources you need to be successful in this country,” says Batar.

And Rippenkroeger point to success stories; the doctor who’s built a practice in Texas, refugees who’ve started their own businesses. And, a different kind of triumph.  

“To be able to walk down the street in their new home town without having that fear of persecution and life and death is transformational,” he says.

For both the refugee and the case worker.

To mark World Refugee Day, Refugee Services of Texas is putting on three celebrations. 

In Dallas, the public is invited to explore the artistic and cultural heritage of the world at the Dallas Museum of Art from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.  and play soccer and make arts and crafts at a family picnic at White Rock Lake’s Flag Pole Hill from 3 to 5 p.m.

In Fort Worth the public is invited to take part in Refugee Services of Texas’ third annual World Refugee Day Futbol Tournament at the Rolling Hills Soccer Complex from 3 to 5 p.m.

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.