Abstract: Resettlement Experiences of Refugees in the Tri-State Area: Examining the Role of Community Ethnic Density (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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403P Resettlement Experiences of Refugees in the Tri-State Area: Examining the Role of Community Ethnic Density

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Sana Malik, MSW, MPH, DrPH, Assistant Professor, State University of New York at Stony Brook, Stony Brook, NY
Melanie Yu, MA, Doctoral Research Associate, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Laurent Reyes, MSW, Doctoral Student, Rutgers University, NJ
Rupa Khetarpal, MSW, Assistant Professor of Teaching, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Background and Purpose: Community ethnic density, defined as the proximal presence of other members of the same linguistic and/or cultural group, has been associated with positive health outcomes, including decreased morbidity and mortality in immigrant populations (Becares et al, 2012; Vinokurov, 2017). Previous literature has demonstrated that living in ethnically concordant neighborhoods can increase social integration through protection from discrimination, increased employment opportunities, and greater social support (Vinokurov, 2017). Despite this knowledge, refugees resettling in America are unable to choose where they are placed and therefore unable to choose the ethnic makeup of their new community. Drawing on the stories of survival and resilience, this project provides insight into the experiences of refugee integration in the tri-state area and further examines the role of community ethnic density in the resettlement experience of refugees. Specifically, this project examines how refugees and asylees perceive their experiences and identities living in communities that do not reflect their own ethnic identities.

Methods: Twenty-one in-depth, semi-structured interviews (60-90 minutes) were conducted with adults (ages 27-70; x̄ = 41.46) that had refugee (n=12) and asylum (n=9) status. Participants were recruited using a convenience sampling technique via posted and distributed fliers. Interviews were conducted in English, transcribed verbatim, and double-coded by four trained qualitative analysts using NVivo software and guided by an inductive approach. The sample predominately self-identified as cisgender male (62%) and originated from 13 countries. Most participants had a four-year university degree or higher (52%) and were in the United States for a median of eight years (range: 2 months-68 years).

Findings: Participants discussed difficulty in finding individuals they could converse with due to language barriers and turn to for assistance, indicating perceived loneliness and low levels of social support, in ethnically discordant communities. Participants sought out ethnic enclaves when possible and relied on co-ethnic resources, including markets and places of worship, to further adaptation processes, thereby highlighting self-determination and coping skills. While this sample did not prioritize the need for cultural connection over safety, research regarding secondary migration, that is relocating from the original location of resettlement, indicates that some refugees out-migrate in order to live with other refugees within their own networks, which usually share ethnic, cultural, and/or language similarities (Bloem & Loveridge, 2017). Furthermore, similar to previous research findings (Weng and Lee 2016), participants shared similar sentiments in that connecting with other migrants offers them the opportunity uphold their own cultural values.

Conclusions & Implications: Our results provide formative data for social workers and community agencies working with refugees to assess community environment in resettlement experiences. Given the expertise of social workers to refer clients to necessary services, there may be benefit to understanding the role of matching refugees with ethnically-concordant families and organizations in their lives as possible resources to protect against social and mental health consequences. Finally, findings from this research can also inform refugee resettlement policies for both future service provision and integration needs.