Lincoln community home to refugees from around the world


Moe Free works at his desk at the Center for People in Need.

Story and photos by Erin Myers, NewsNetNebraska

Imagine fleeing your home country for fear of war, persecution or death. Everything you are familiar with is left behind. Imagine being picked up, and transplanted into a culture far different from anything you know. For refugees in Lincoln, this is a reality.

Moe Free is one of those refugees. Originally from Burma, Free, his wife and six children left their home in 2000. They sought protection at a refugee camp in Thailand for eight years before coming to the United States.

Free says the most challenging part of coming to America as a refugee was learning to speak English.

“My family and me too, no speak English. Shopping, talking, somebody come to my house and I couldn’t understand. It was very, very hard work for me. I know that I don’t know the language. No speak English. I don’t really know English.”

With the help of refugee resettlement programs offered in Lincoln, Free says he was able to start bridging the gap.

The U.S. resettles more refugees than any other country

There are three resettlement agencies in Nebraska that assist refugees once they arrive; Lutheran Family Services, Heartland Refugee Resettlement and Catholic Social Services.  One agency is Lutheran Family Services which serves refugees in Lincoln and Omaha. Carol Cleaver with Lutheran Family Services says in 2000, the United States accepted 90,000 refugees into its borders. One hundred and fifty-two families were resettled in Lincoln with the help of their agency.

In 2011, Federal Refugee Admission numbers into the United States was set at 80,000. The projected admission numbers into the United States for 2012 is set at 76,000. According to the U.S. Department of State, the United States resettles more refugees than any other country worldwide. The U.S. Department of State Refugee Admissions Program says in order to gain refugee status; they must have a substantiated fear of persecution due to their religion, race, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular group.

Making the transition easier

Karen Parde, refugee coordinator for Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, says refugees are a very special population who need assistance when they arrive.

“All refugees are immigrants, but not all immigrants are refugees. Refugees had to flee their homeland due to fear of persecution. Many of them have been tortured themselves or seen family members murdered or tortured. They fled, usually into a country other than the United States, and in most cases lived in refugee camps.”

Parde says assisting refugees is vital to their success after being transplanted into a new culture.

“We have funding to provide English as a second language classes, to provide employment support services, to help them find those jobs because of course they come here and they don’t even know how to get from point A to point B; leastwise, how to find a job.”

It’s all about employment

The Center for People in Need is another resource available to refugees.  Liz Heusman, job training coordinator at the Center for People in Need, says providing job training for refugees is a critical role of the Center.

“They’re coming to the United States, they’re not able to gain employment, and it’s starting all over that generally puts them in the low income family category.”

Heusman says the job-training program wasn’t necessarily designed for refugees. Based on the needs that the program addresses, it became very appealing to the refugee community.


Free looks over items ready for distribution.

Heusman says each day is a challenge but has seen how a little help can open doors in the life of a refugee.

“It’s amazing to me that they are able to adapt the way they do. I hope that with our class we can get the word out to new refugees who maybe don’t know where to go for help, or where to look or who to ask to help them. I hope this class will keep helping people when they come here.”

On top of resettlement services, Parde says with a little more awareness, Nebraskans could make a big difference in the lives of refugees.

“To me, the biggest challenge is to get people excited about it. People who start working with refugees find they get very passionate about them real fast. They’re a very special population. I think Nebraska has the type of citizens that if they really understood who refugees are, that many people would step up to the plate and help them through that first difficult period of time.”

A step in the right direction


Qasim Pirali assists in handing out items at the Center for People for Need.

According to Free, the most important part to getting a job is learning the language. He hopes to continue helping other refugees at the Center while also improving his English.

“My favorite is I really, really like just helping people, refugees you know. I like to help because before I come to United States it was very, very difficult for me. I don’t speak English. It’s very, very difficult for me. A lot of people don’t speak English. I speak English a little bit and I help others. It is my favorite part.”

If you would like to assist refugees in Lincoln or Omaha, you can contact the Center for People in Need for volunteer opportunities and other details.

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