The Refugee Population Continues to Grow in the F-M... Are Perce - Valley News Live - KVLY/KXJB - Fargo/Grand Forks

The Refugee Population Continues to Grow in the F-M... Are Perceptions Changing?

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North Dakota has become a refuge for thousands of immigrants. In fact every year Lutheran Social Services assists over 300 people from various countries in getting to North Dakota to start a new life. But it's no secret that some of those folks turn to a life of crime, sometimes very violent crimes. Valley News team's Eric Crest gets at the under belly of this issue and exposes a more accurate portrayal of North Dakota's newest residents. All in an effort to share with you how a string of crimes shouldn't represent this new community as a whole.

After allegedly throwing a hatchet through a window this West Fargo man now faces charges of attempted murder. It's when crimes like this occur within the African American demographic of our population that social media ignites. Every time a perceived foreigner commits a similar act of violence comment get out of control.

One person recently wrote of the crime this way, "if he's not from here, send him back to where he is from."

Another comment says, "that's what we get for letting him in our states."

And one more comment tries to point the finger directly at what he deems the problem. He stated "don't want knife wielding neighbors from Muslim countries? Here's the contact info for Lutheran Social Services."

We asked LSS if they believe they give new Americans the tools they really need to succeed?

"If someone falls off the path it's a disappointment. It's sad, and not what we would hope," says Darci Asche of Lutheran Social Services.

The American dream of a home, family, and a meaningful job are goals that some, could never even imagine obtaining.

"From 1996 to 2006 I lived in a refugee camp. I went from one camp to another camp," says Abedengo Thomas of West Fargo.

Thomas spent ten long years in a refugee camp. Each day a reflection of the previous one. He left Liberia in the midst of civil crisis that he wasn't sure if he could survive.

"My parents are dead. My parents died back home in Africa and got killed during the war," says Thomas.

Seven years ago Lutheran Social Services helped Abedengo and about 300 others get to Fargo. Something they've done for refugees and immigrants displaced from their home country for nearly 70 years.

"Starting over in a completely different place," says Asche.

Helping people who were nearly forgotten about start the next chapter of their lives in the United States of America.

"We pay the first month rent and deposit. We furnish the apartment, we fill it with household items like beds and furniture. We do it all through a federal grant," explains Asche.

Financial assistance is only provided for eight months. Which is basically enough to cover the cost of rent. They want to get these new Americans into the work force so they can become self sufficient.

"They're not children. They're gonna figure it out. They're survivors. My gosh they escaped their country and the conflict and wars and they navigated through living in a refugee camp," says Asche.

But as media outlets across the Fargo Moorhead area continually report. Perceived foreigners are continually dabbling in violent crime.

"They want to be who they are not," explains Thomas.

Creating an often negative impression on many of this growing demographic.

"It's easy for the general populous to look and see the crime rate increasing and see that the last names are not your normal Johnson's and Smiths," says Pastor Thom Bowsher who works with Thomas at Flame of Faith United Methodist Church in West Fargo.

Pastor Thom Bowsher of Flame of Faith United Methodist Church in West Fargo welcomes the growing African community, literally every Sunday at noon. Even though many have already made up their minds about what these folks are capable of contributing.

"Just because a few people do something, we cannot assume that is how the whole of that group of people are. The one doesn't represent the many," says Bowsher.

"The kids that are brought here that grew up here don't know anything about what happens in Africa. Everything they're doing they learn right here. Don't make it look like these are careers they had and they brought it to North Dakota. That is not true," says Thomas.

Yet for the majority of stories that expose a foreigner as a criminal because of the crime. All too often stereotypes are born and that's when Facebook really blows up with hate.

"People are critical," says Asche.

"It's not only America. Trust me. If you came to my home country you are going to experience racism too," adds Thomas.

So as this melting pot that we call the United States of America continues to grow and look different. Don't forget about how we became as unique, cultured, and diverse as we all are, in the first place.

"My grandparents came here as immigrants and they hoped to survive. But I am sure they hoped for something even better for their children and grand children and that was realized. But it didn't come without struggle," says Asche.

"What can our community do better? Actually it starts with individuals," adds Bowsher.

"I try not to get hurt by those types of statements. When they tell me to go back home. I try not to get hurt," says Thomas.

Lutheran Social Services says that while they do offer limited financial support for about the first year of a refugees stay in America, it doesn't last forever. Adding that most of their clients find gainful employment rather quickly. All of the services that they help refugees and immigrants get in contact with are also available for the general public.
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