Refugees to start publicity campaign for community center

Published 10:26 am Friday, June 5, 2015

Area refugees are ready for another publicity push to get classes, services and a community space for Mower County’s refugee population up and running.

According to Chief Brown Bol, the African Asian Refugee Services Agency has fleshed out its proposal to create a refugee community space.

“We’re already a step ahead to do what we can,” Bol said.

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AARSA representatives met with Sen. Dan Sparks and Rep. Jeanne Poppe, both DFL-Austin, several weeks ago to discuss Mower County’s need for a refugee center to help incoming residents transition from war zones or refugee camps in other continents to life in the U.S.

Sudanese leaders have tried for years to raise interest in a center, but they found the community wasn’t interested at the time. That’s when they partnered with several advocates from the Karen, Karenni and other Asian refugees who came to Austin in the past few years to form the AARSA in 2014.

Many families can struggle to get used to life in Minnesota without help learning English and the processes behind many things residents can take for granted.

At times, parents can rely on their children who speak English, but Bol said the Sudanese want to become more engaged through helping themselves, especially when attending parent teacher conferences and learning how their children are doing in class.

Karen refugees, which come from Myanmar, face the same issues. Both the Karen and the Sudanese have fled countries traumatized by civil war and military action that has gone on for decades.

As a result, a refugee center that offers things like an after-school program, or parenting classes on the weekends such as the one the AARSA proposes would have a better chance to help refugees assimilate — refugees helping refugees, so to speak.

“It doesn’t mean we get left behind, but because of a language barrier, we have difficulties” Bol said.

Austin Mayor Tom Stiehm has supported the idea of a refugee community center since Bol and other community leaders brought the issue up last fall. Though the city of Austin can’t directly fund a refugee center, Stiehm believes the community should support the idea.

“There’s definitely a need for it,” he said.

Bol and other leaders are seeking donations and applying for grants. They are also hoping to meet with area organizations who could help secure space for the center.

“We don’t need a new building,” Bol said. “We just need somewhere to meet.”

For more information, contact Bol at 651-275-5074.