Refugees Don't Stay Refugees Forever

Refugees don’t stay refugees forever. Hassan Ibrahim’s life provides a clear illustration.

Hassan was only 4 years old when he fled his home in Somalia at the outbreak of the civil war in 1991. He grew up in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp, where he completed high school and a university education, as well as marrying and starting a family with his wife.

Their lives took a major turn when they were approved for resettlement in the US as refugees and arrived in Indiana in August of 2016. After just two weeks, they relocated to Mankato to be close to family and friends. Now, Hassan says that Mankato is home and he’ll never leave, unless he was to go back to Africa. He loves the calm, peaceful character of Mankato, the reliable public transportation, the presence of a thriving university, and the welcoming nature of Mankato’s people.

When he arrived in Mankato with his wife and four daughters, his wife was expecting their fifth daughter and they needed help establishing their lives in the US. Hassan described feeling as though he was blind when he first arrived, not knowing how or where to start. They connected right away with MCC Refugee Services and working with our staff they found an apartment, jobs, and connections to schools, health insurance, clinics, and community resources. Hassan reports that they are still living in the same apartment they rented almost 3 years ago and are both still working at Angie’s Boomchickapop popcorn in Mankato, where they first started working. Hassan and his wife also both attended Refugee Services’ Tapestry Project sessions, and Hassan jumped right into interpreting some of those sessions within his first year in Minnesota. In the months that followed, they also connected with Refugee Services to process their Green Card applications, making them permanent residents of the U.S.

Hassan knew that he wanted to work with others in need, so he soon enrolled in the Social Work program at Mankato State University. Since many of his credits from university in Kenya transferred, he hopes to be able to complete the program by the end of next year and looks forward to a career in social work. In the meantime, he and his wife work alternate 12 hour shifts at Angie’s in addition to parenting their 5 delightful daughters and taking classes at MSU.

We have had the opportunity to watch Hassan come full circle as he completed a social work internship at MCC Refugee Services this spring. He interned 8 hours a week throughout the semester, shadowing all of our Mankato staff and assisting them in their work. They had such a high level of trust and confidence in Hassan that he sometimes even handled client appointments on his own. He also worked with Nancy Altmann to coordinate the Tapestry sessions, working behind-the-scenes on logistics and transportation. Nancy also talked about how Hassan transitioned very naturally into leading some of the sessions and discussions, having already earned a place of respect and familiarity in the community. When he walks through the halls of the Adult Basic Education center, he’s greeted warmly by other community members who know and trust him.

It has been a joy for our Mankato Refugee Services team watch Hassan and his family journey from new arrivals with refugee status to respected, settled community members, and a professional colleague. It’s true: refugees don’t stay refugees forever. They become our neighbors, fellow citizens, co-workers, leaders, and much more.