German delegation in Utah to learn about American refugee system

Salt Lake City one of 4 cities selected to highlight America's refugee programs

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) - Eight German delegates are on a four-city tour of the United States to learn about the American refugee system and the services and programs offered to show how America integrates refugees into society.

The visit to the states was made possible through the European Office for Cultural Vistas and the Welcoming Communities Transatlantic Exchange.  Over the next 3 days these delegates will learn about how Utah settles refugees.  These officials have already traveled to the nations capitol and learned seen how lawmakers shape policy towards refugees at the national level.  They will also be visiting Nashville and Detroit to get a look at the refugee programs and services in those cities.  So what made Utah unique to learn from?  

"Salt Lake County represents a unique welcoming culture in the United States as a somewhat more conservative state but having a more liberal welcoming policy towards immigration and refugees," said William Maier, Senior Director of the European Office for Cultural Vistas.  

Throughout the discussions Salt Lake officials praised both Democratic and Republican leaders in our state for taking a sensitive and welcoming approach towards refugees.

"In the future, not so distant future, instead of hearing Mr Trump's name all the time, you'll hear Ben McAdams.  I just want to say that, he's part of the future of our politics not only in this state but in our country. Thanks to him for his leadership in welcoming in America," said Pamela Atkinson an advisor to Governor Gary Herbert and a community advocate.  She went on to add, "We have a very special governor.  He was the first governor in America to step up to the plate and say refugees are welcome here in Utah.  We're very grateful that the governor took that role."

Atkinson and other Salt Lake County officials spoke about the importance and vital role refugees play in the continued growth of Utah communities.  

"We really welcome the diversity.  We welcome our refugees in terms of how they enhance our lives and how they enrich our lives.  They're an incredible part and an integral part of the economic framework and future of our state, and bring skills that we need and bring the different expertise," said Atkinson.

Utah officials say the Beehive State can only benefit from the many contributions immigrants and refugees can offer to Utah communities and stressed the importance of providing essential programs and services that help to quickly assimilate them into American culture, to achieve success, independence, and find safety, security, and prosperity in America.   

During their visit Salt Lake officials will also highlight nonprofit refugee settlement programs and provide tours of churches.  They'll speak about how local government can work with non-profits and the private sector to help refugees learn English, understand American laws and the legal system, to understand the role of government and to provide essential services for families and children.  

"I think I will bring the positive message back to Germany because we don't have, it's not easy in Germany," said Dr. Sylvie Nantcha a member of the Friedburg City Council in Germany and the the Commission for Migration and Integration.  "We have a lot of people who are against the refugee.  We have to see how we can shape the discussion about refugees in Germany."

Dr. Nantcha says she has been surprised to see that the role of the federal and state level can be completely different and work cohesively in relation to refugees in the states.  She calls the refugee system in America very practical.

"In Germany we have to deal with a lot of laws, at the federal level, at the state level and at the local level it's not easy to work for the integration," she said.  

She was also surprised to learn about the refugee vetting process in America.  A refugee has to wait an average of two years to be considered for entry to the U.S. and go through countless interviews and piles of paperwork.  In Germany, refugees apply for refugee status after they have arrived in the country and because of that it makes integration very difficult, she says. 

"They have to make the application in Germany.  After 1 year or 2 years they're waiting for the answer so they don't know if they'll stay in Germany or if they'll go back so, it's not easy for us.  So, it's not easy for us to work for the integration," said Sylvie.  

One thing Sylvie hopes to take back to her country is the warm response America has towards refugees.  Ever since the influx of refugees into the country in 2015 she says Germans have hard a bad perception of refugees. 

"I'm very impressed about the way that all the people who are speaking today love refugees.  It's a very positive way.  They look after the benefits that they contribute to the society here," she said.  "I'm also very impressed that they try to help the refugees to become very quickly independent, to open their own business, and I think that's the thing that we'll bring back to Germany so we can see that we have a positive way to see the refugee because we have a very critical situation in Germany."

When she returns to Germany she hopes to get many people to fight with her for the cause to get all levels of government and businesses to work together to help understand and develop a plan to help refugees.

"I think what we can learn from Utah is that we have to bring all the partners together, the government and the non-government society as well as the entrepreneurs so that we can see what they can do to integrate the refugees and discuss what they want from the refugees and they can discuss what can be the positive impact for the refugee for our society," says Dr. Nantcha.

In the fall a delegation from Utah will travel to Germany and visit at least 4 different regions of the country to learn about their refugee system, the kinds of programs and services they provide, and share ideas to improve the situation of refugees around the world.  


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