The ravenous hatred of the Trumpian right-wing media has found a soft target in a yogurt company in small-town America. Xenophobic pundits have in recent months warned of a brewing terrorist cell at Chobani, a Greek yogurt brand that runs an internationally renowned social-enterprise program supporting hundreds of refugees from distressed countries. But, fortunately, the panic might have been been misplaced: A larger rescue operation is underway nationwide in grassroots programs struggling to resettle refugees in American towns and cities—a modest, quiet effort facing an increasingly uncertain future under a far-right president.
A more homegrown refugee enterprise is launching in Minnesota, through a collaborative development effort led by and for refugees in the Twin Cities Somali immigrant community. The Cedar-Riverside Opportunity Center lacks Chobani’s sleek branding, but it provides a more robust model for long-term resettlement for a marginalized refugee community. Founded by EMERGE Community Development in Minneapolis along with the Cedar-Riverside Youth Council, a Somali community group, the center will aim to bridge the employment gap and foster educational opportunity for refugee youth with services like job training, youth mentorship, GED prep, and community-college programs. The center (which avoided federal assistance and opted instead for local funds and private donations) will also partner with labor unions to connect youth facing education or employment barriers with career-track apprenticeships.
The program will target young Somali-American men aged 14 to 24, who, as members of the Muslim immigrant and black communities, are especially vulnerable to institutionalized discrimination, targeting by local or federal law enforcement, joblessness, and social instability.
While any employment is key to refugee integration, EMERGE seeks to provide refugee youth with a culturally competent support network. According to the group’s Associate Director of Employment and Training Mohamed Ali, when it fully launches next year, the program that provides a “gateway to education, training and employment in the same space administered and managed by former refugees like myself—that uniqueness is the success for any refugee in the United States.”
The social and economic struggles facing refugee populations in the US intersect with gaps in the assistance provided by federal refugee-resettlement system—a disjointed system of private groups and agencies that provides just enough aid for refugees to survive, but not live, in their new homeland.
In a recent report on Syrian refugee resettlement, Samir Alrshdan, a middle-aged Syrian former factory owner who immigrated to Hamtramck, Michigan—America’s only majority Muslim city—reflected: “Even if I have to sell everything I own, I want to pay back this money. I want to be the perfect citizen here and show gratitude.” But he still struggles to access English-language education and financial aid, while facing a $12,000 debt for the cost of traveling to the US.