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Refugees living in Indy say meeting individual needs is key to success

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A refugee now living in Indianapolis on Tuesday said the resources available in the Circle City were key to helping her family start new lives here.

Sui Par came to the United States with her family in 2010 after fleeing Myanmar. She said after initially trying to settle in Albany, New York, her family was able to start over in Indianapolis thanks to the infrastructure built specifically around supporting the Burmese community. On Tuesday, she joined dozens of other Burmese refugees for a community service event marking World Refugee Day.

“With (the Burmese American Community Institute), I really admire the fact that they are focused on individuals and they try to help individuals with their basic necessities,” she said. “It’s a one-on-one relationship rather than trying to help a group of people.”

State officials said they try to follow a similar philosophy. IU estimates nearly 28,000 refugees now live in Indiana. The Family and Social Services Administration runs federally-funded refugee services such as cash and medical benefits. It also oversees state-run employment programs for refugees. Agency officials said more than 1,000 refugees settled in Indiana just since October. Adrienne Shields, the director of the FSSA’s Division of Family Resources, said what sets Indiana’s program apart is the state’s efforts to work with individual refugees on self-sufficiency plans.

“Looking at that individual’s age and their ability to work as well as mental health. Mental health also plays a role in those self-sufficiency plans,” she said. “So it’s looking at that individual’s needs, their household composition, their age and ultimately their abilities and limitations.”

Lian Sang, the BACI’s program director, said the state of Indiana and the city of Indianapolis both have been exemplary in their support of refugees. He said there’s always room for improvement, particularly in terms of translation services in school, but local officials have done a good job of working with the refugee community to address its needs.

Par said moving to the United States has allowed her to pursue opportunities she never would have had in her home country. She said Americans should see refugees arriving in their community as new and welcome neighbors rather than someone to fear.

“Seeing a new culture, seeing a group of people that you have never seen before and hearing them talk and seeing their livelihoods may be somewhat surprising to you,” she said, “and so we need to come from a place that we have to accept and understand that they’ve been through traumatic events to come here.”

The FSSA works directly with four refugee resettlement agencies throughout Indiana, all of which accept monetary and supply donations. Organizations such as the Burmese American Community Institute accept donations and volunteers as well.