Arizona part of study on suicides among Bhutanese refugees

July 13, 2013 6:30 am  •  Stephanie Innes Arizona Daily Star

The annual suicide rate among Bhutanese refugees resettled in the United States was calculated by investigators of the recent federal report as 21.5 per 100,000; the annual suicide rate for U.S. residents is 12.4 per 100,000

Nearly 3,000 Bhutanese refugees have resettled in Arizona since 2008, according to state data. Tucson is one of the communities where a large concentration of the Bhutanese refugees resettled.

Bhutanese of Nepali origin, mainly Hindu, began fleeing Bhutan in the 1990s due to persecution and violence. Many of them spent years living in refugee camps in Nepal before moving to the United States and other countries.

During the period of February 2009 to February 2012, the Office of Refugee Resettlement of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported 16 suicides among the approximately 57,000 Bhutanese refugees who resettled in the United States since 2008. Four additional suicides by Bhutanese refugees have been documented since February 2012, the report says.

In collaboration with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Refugee Health Technical Assistance Center, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a survey of randomly selected Bhutanese refugees in four U.S. states with large populations of resettled refugees to identify risk factors that might be associated with ideas of suicide. The four states were Arizona, Georgia, New York, and Texas.

The survey findings suggest that Bhutanese refugees who have resettled in the U.S. could have a high burden of undiagnosed mental illness.

The study says mental-health services should be considered one of the priorities in the service package for refugees arriving in the United States.

Programs to address challenges such as job and language training should consider adding social-support and mental-health components, the report says. One of the factors contributing to the suicides was an inability to find work, the data shows.

The report also says refugee communities and service providers might benefit from additional suicide-awareness training to identify those at highest risk and greatest need for early intervention.

Away from Bombs: Syrian Refugees’ New Life in Russia

I recently found this documentary about Syrian refugees that relocated to the Republic of Adygea (a federal subject of Russia, located in southeastern Europe in the northern foothills of the Caucasus Mountains). Understandable, many find the transition to a new land difficult and yearn for the homeland they left behind, but some have embraced this new land and strive to become a part of Russian society.

Microenterprise Development

I thought this week I would touch on how many refugees develop, expand or sustain their own businesses and become successful and self-sufficient in the USA. This is done through the assistance of the Microenterprise Development program, offered through the Office of Refugee Resettlement. The program provides training and assistance in:

  • Business plan development
  • Management
  • Bookkeeping
  • Marketing

The Microenterprise Development Program provides credit in the form of micro-loans up to a maximum of $15,000, and, if applicable, a revolving loan fund. Local non-profit organizations design Microenterprise. In 2011, there were 18 grantees in 15 states that receive grants totaling $4 million.

Development Programs catering to local refugee populations, with things such as:

  • Employment rates
  • Welfare status
  • Length of time in the U.S.
  • Interest in micro-businesses
  • Readiness to start a micro-business
  • English language proficiency

One of the programs currently available in Phoenix through the IRC Phoenix is called Fostering Agricultural Refugees Microenterprises (FARM). According to the IRC, this is an “initiative aimed at the economic empowerment of refugees through agricultural business. The FARM program supports participants through education and the provision of farming resources. Open to all refugees residing in Maricopa County, the FARM program includes enterprises based on animal or crop production, aquaculture, horticulture, and agriculture.”

The FARM program currently has 30 registered farmers and a 14 acre plot of land.

I believe refugees bring many positive qualities to the local community including diverse business ideas, skills, and experiences. It also brings revenue to the valley and helps those in need improve their lives.

Gojo Ethiopian Restaurant

Last week, a friend and I went to Gojo Ethiopian Restaurant for dinner. Located at 3015 East Thomas Road, Gojo is the creation of owner and chef Zufan Alemu. Originally from Ethiopia, Alemu worked 15 years for the United Nations in Kuwait before coming to Phoenix in 2006. Zufan Alemu owns and operates Gojo with her husband and two close friends.

This was my first Ethiopian meal, and it was a pleasant surprise. The aroma in this restaurant was the first thing I noticed when I walked in — it was an amazing aroma of spices and cooked meats. The restaurant was nicely decorated with art from Ethiopia, and a background music that really added to the vibe. There were quite a few people in the restaurant — a group of men at the bar area watching sports on the television and quite a few young couples scattered around.

We decided to go with two combination platters — one meat and one veggie. The combos each included five items from the menu, and a small salad dressed with lemon vinaigrette. Being my first time, when the food arrived the waitress was nice enough to explain how to eat the food. We proceeded to tear off a piece of injera (flatbread) and use it to scoop up a bite of food with our hands. The food was great — tender, moist and flavorful.

Overall, the service was friendly and basic. Atmosphere was chill, and inviting. Food was great. Would definitely recommend checking this out if you want to try something new, or would like to find a good Ethiopian restaurant.

Fattoush

The restaurant I am going to review today is Fattoush. Located in the Alhambra neighborhood of Phoenix, Fattoush is a small restaurant that was established in 2004 by an Iraqi refugee family. Settled here through the International Rescue Committee, Sam Zankana and his family prepare authentic and traditional Iraqi and Middle Eastern dishes — hummus, kababs, tabbouly and grape leaves just to name a few.

I walked into the small establishment and was immediately greeted and taken to a seat. I decided to start off with the hummus plate. The hummus was thick, fresh and full of flavor. Some of the best I have ever tasted! Definitely a recommendation to any one who wants a tasty appetizer.

Next up was the main course. I decided to stick with one of my favorite Mediterranean dishes, falafel. Once again I was not disappointed. The falafel was crisp and not dry on the inside. The flavor was great. The plate also came with a tabbouleh salad, a small lettuce salad with a yogurt dressing and, to my delight, more hummus. The tabbouleh was another treat — the mint and parsley flavor was just right and wasn’t too oily or overpowered by onions.

When it was time to pay the check, I walked up to the counter and handed over the bill. “How was the meal?” Mrs. Zankana asked. To which I replied, “A’jabani haqqan!” Pleasantly surprised at my little knowledge of Arabic (score one for those 2 semesters!), I began speaking with her about Phoenix, where she was from and why they came here. She told me her family fled the country of Iraq after the war broke out, stating that it wasn’t safe for her and her family to live there any longer. Her family came here as refugees and after a few years, opened up the restaurant. She also advised that I should brush up on my Arabic and take some classes at the Thunderbird School of Management; apparently a lot of Iraqi refugees take classes there and take Arabic as their foreign language requirement. I thanked her, in Arabic, and left satisfied and definitely wanting to visit again.

If you are in the Phoenix area, or plan on visiting, please check out Fattoush located at:

4426 N. 19th Ave.
Phoenix, AZ 85015
602-241-3199

My Top 5 Refugee Advocate Blogs

I decided to compile a list of organizations that I felt were the top five that advocate for refugees. This was based on the work the organizations do around the world, bringing refugee issues to the forefront and the advocacy they do once refugees reach the United States. These organizations (and this theme overall) is important to my community because they are working hard everyday to make sure this community is able to live a happy, safe and productive life — it is these organizations that give the tools to refugees to be successful and self-sufficient in their lives. It is also important for people to know who these organizations are, what they do and even learn how they can get involved!

5 – Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Social Services

For more than seven decades, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service has been a champion for migrants and refugees from around the globe. Their services have made a difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of refugees who have sought safety and a new life. Their mission is based on the Lutherans’ deep immigrant roots in the United States and passionate commitment to welcoming newcomers. The only religiously affiliated organization on this list, LIRS has done tons of good work and continues to do so by embodying their mission statement of “Witnessing to God’s love for all people, we stand with and advocate for migrants and refugees, transforming communities through ministries of service and justice.”

4 – U.S. Committee For Refugees & Immigrants

The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) is an international advocacy and domestic refugee resettlement organization, headquartered in Washington, DC. According to the organization’s mission statement, USCRI was established “To address the needs and rights of persons in forced or voluntary migration worldwide by advancing fair and humane public policy, facilitating and providing direct professional services, and promoting the full participation of migrants in community life.” For the past 100 years, USCRI has helped shape history — publishing the first book on U.S. citizenship, to helping refugees from war-torn places in Europe, Asia, and Africa build new lives in the United States, to protecting the rights of unaccompanied child migrants. USCRI has led the way in guiding newcomers toward achieving the American dream.

3 – Refugees International

Refugees International was started in 1979 as a citizens’ movement to protect Indochinese refugees. Since then, they have expanded to become the leading advocacy organization that provokes action from global leaders to resolve refugee crises. They pride themselves on not accepting government or UN funding, which allows their advocacy to be “fearless and independent”. Each year, Refugees International conducts 15 to 20 field missions to identify displaced people’s needs for basic services such as food, water, health care, housing, access to education and protection from harm. They have a successfully history of challenging policy makers and aid agencies to improve the lives of displaced people around the world.

2 – International Rescue Committee

Founded in 1933 on the suggestion of Albert Einstein, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) is a nonsectarian, nongovernmental international relief and development organization based in the United States, with operations in over 40 countries. The IRC’s mission is “to provide emergency relief, post-conflict development and resettlement services; to work for the protection of human rights; and to advocate for those uprooted or affected by violent conflict and oppression.” Some of the great achievements of this organization in 2012:

  • Their doctors, nurses and community health workers provided 14 million people with primary and reproductive health care.
  • They gave  1.4 million people access to clean drinking water and sanitation.
  • vaccinated over 292,000 children against disease and our IRC-supported clinics and hospitals helped 151,000 women deliver healthy babies.
  • Provided schooling or child friendly spaces for 589,000 girls and boys, and trained over 15,000 educators.
  • Created  789 village savings and loan associations (VSLAs) in 9 countries that benefited over 18,000 members.

1 – United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), also known as the UN Refugee Agency, is a United Nations agency that emerged in the wake of World War II to help Europeans displaced by the war. The agency is mandated to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. Its primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees. In more than five decades, the agency has helped an estimated 50 million people restart their lives. Today, a staff of around 6,300 people in 117 countries continues to help 32.9 million persons. UNHCR is unique both in terms of the number of people it helps and as the only institution mandated by the international community to lead and coordinate the world’s response to refugee issues.

As the only agency with the legal standing to negotiate with governments on behalf of refugees or displaced people, UNHCR defends refugees’ and stateless people’s rights to work, travel and attend school in another country or region. UNHCR’s work in promoting international refugee agreements and establishing asylum structures with individual governments also makes it possible for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to operate and provide aid and resources.