Why we’re telling these stories.

The Trump administration has cut the number of refugees allowed to settle in the U.S., citing security concerns and a desire that they remain closer to their home countries.

Last year, 981 found homes in Colorado — far fewer than in years past.

The change has created a degree of sadness among those hoping to bring their families here, said Kit Taintor, Colorado’s refugee resettlement coordinator.

“There’s a lot of refugees who live and reside in Colorado, and call it home, who have been waiting for the opportunity to rejoin with family members who are still overseas,” said Taintor.

“There’s a lot of refugees who live and reside in Colorado, and call it home, who have been waiting for the opportunity to rejoin with family members who are still overseas.”

This week, KUNC is sharing stories from our state’s refugee community.

We look at their impact on the communities they live in and the state’s economy — and what it’s like adjusting to a new culture.

KUNC’s Catherine Welch spoke with Collin Cannon. He’s with the Immigration and Refugee Center of Northern Colorado.

We start with the question: Where do these refugees come from?

KUNC’s Catherine Welch talks to the Refugee Center of Northern Colorado’s director of advocacy and development Collin Cannon about the state’s refugee population.

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With fewer refugees, who will work at Greeley’s meatpacking plant?

At his one-room apartment, 35-year-old Abul Basar made a tight fist with his right hand. As he opened his palm, his ring-finger remained bent and rigid.

“It’s locked my finger, (it) doesn’t work,” he said.

Basar came to the area as a refugee in 2017 after escaping violent persecution in his former country of Burma, also known as Myanmar. He said he fled to Bangladesh and then Thailand  and eventually Indonesia, where he was detained for nearly a year by immigration authorities. Today, he’s relieved to be in the U.S.

“This was very difficult times. There was no work over there, just eating (and) sleeping, that’s it.”

He shares a home with his wife and two young children — whom he hopes will aspire to be lawyers or doctors. He’s happy here. But he said didn’t realize the work would be so difficult.

“It’s a very hard job,” he said “JBS is not easy.”

KUNC’s Esther Honig reports on the role refugee’s play in the meatpacking industry — and the impact it has on them.

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A Somali-owned grocery store in Fort Morgan offers flavors of home to the refugees who live there.

For Fort Morgan Mini-Halal Market owner Abdiwahab Hade, business is just in his blood.

His father owned a restaurant back in Somalia. Hade started working there when he was 13, he said. At 17, he took over the business.

In 2007, when he came to the United States, Hade started out like many refugees in the area by working at local meatpacking plants. The jobs are easy to pick up, don’t require English skills and pay better than other similarly skilled employment. Hade worked at both JBS in Greeley and Cargill in Fort Morgan. But he had dreams of doing something different.

“I see Cargill was very hard. When I was back home, I have my own business and I get more benefit — like when you work (for) somebody or you work on your own.”

At first though, the idea of opening his own business seemed daunting, he said. Hade imagined he’d need hundreds of thousands of dollars to start even a small business in America.

KUNC’s Stacy Nick reports on one refugee’s journey to work outside the meatpacking industry.

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Despite a strong economy, many refugee doctors and nurses face widespread underemployment.

The inside of Enas Alsharea’s office is small, but tidy. There’s a coffee mug on her desk with a photo of her smiling kids on it.

“This is my daughter, Abby,” she said, showing off her space. “She’s 11 and in the fifth grade. This is my son Haydar. He’s in first.”

Alsharea is a health navigator for a refugee medical clinic in Aurora. She schedules appointments and does interpreting for the newly resettled.

She likes her job, but it’s a far cry from her time as a practicing dentist in Baghdad, Iraq.

“I thought I achieved all I wanted,” she said. “I owned a house in the mountains. I was driving a 2014 car in 2014. I didn’t want to leave.”

But safety concerns that year forced her to drop everything and flee. And when she arrived in Denver, she couldn’t find work.

“I didn’t know where to look. I knew nobody here. I just felt … just out of the system.  An outsider. I don’t know how to explain it better. Just an outsider.”

Each year, dozens of doctors, nurses and other medical professionals like Alsharea come to Colorado as refugees only to realize their foreign certifications aren’t worth much in the United States.

Despite efforts from the state to help, many abandon their careers.

KUNC’s Matt Bloom reports on the issue of refugee underemployment, specifically in the medical field. 

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A chance to attend high school in Colorado has resettled students feeling proud and hopeful for their future.

Abdul Ghani Bin Abdul Munaf strolled through the halls of Greeley Central High School on the way to his next class. Ghani, the name he goes by, is 18 and has attended the school since January 2018.

“The school (was) a little big and I was really nervous,” he said. “Like I’m a first time. Nobody know me, who I am and where I come from.”

Ghani is a Rohingya Muslim. His parents are originally from Burma, also known as Myanmar, and immigrated to Malaysia before he was born.

Growing up in Malaysia, Ghani said he couldn’t go to school or work because of discrimination against Muslims. Two of his older brothers had been resettled in Greeley. So, in December 2017, Ghani, along with his mother, sister, three other brothers and a niece joined them.

“My mom said, ‘I got opportunities to take you all, go to the America. (They’re going to) give you opportunities to go to the school and learn something, be something.’”

Last year, Ghani was one of about 370 English language learners at Greeley Central High School. He said the language barrier has been the biggest challenge.

“The most important thing that I have to do is learn English to speak,” he said. “Because if I don’t know how to speak English, it’s going be tough for me wherever I go.”

To help students like Ghani, there are four Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CLD) teachers at Greeley Central. This year, for the first time, the CLD teachers are paired with content teachers for math, English, science and social studies.

KUNC’s Stephanie Daniel meets three refugee students at a Greeley high school who see their attendance as a chance to achieve more than their families ever hoped.

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