Struggles for refugees, refugee agencies in Connecticut

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NEW HAVEN -- Alaa Abdulmohsin is a 22-year-old Iraqi refugee who came to New Haven in 2013. She has dreams of becoming a doctor, but is instead working to support her parents and four siblings. It is a far cry from the American Dream she expected to live.  “I think when I be here in America, my life is gonna be changed to finish my school, find a good job for me, to see a new life for me, but I never see anything from that,” said Abdulmohsin.

She struggled to learn English and find a job close to home, eventually finding work as a waitress. Her father, a former military translator in Iraq, has high hopes for his family. “I can buy apartment, car, future for my kids, send kids to good school,” said Ibrahim Alsaigh.

Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, or IRIS, in New Haven works to help refugee families assimilate into the United States. Refugees are expected to learn English and find employment within a few months of arrival. The agency’s executive director Chris George said it is an admittedly demanding project. “This is a tough self-help program,” said George. “You’ve got to hit the ground running.”

IRIS has 12 full-time and 12 part-time employees to help refugees in Connecticut. “We’re going to help you enroll your kids in school,” said George. “We’re going to help connect you to healthcare. We’re gonna help you learn English. We’re gonna help you find a job. We’re gonna do this as quickly as we can because we don’t have enough money to stretch out this adjustment period.”

Although tough, George said most can adapt. “They learn English,” he said. “They get jobs within three to four months. They start paying their rent. And they’re on their way.”

An estimated 70,000 refugees come to the U.S. every year. About 550 of them are placed in Connecticut.