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By Andria Weyrich

A refugee is a person who has crossed an international border due to fear of persecution in their native country because of their race, religion, nationality, affiliation to a social group, or political  



Hundreds of refugees settle in the Midwest every year. Chicago, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Detroit, Lansing, and Cleveland have some of the largest percentages of refugees in the region. In order for a community to be established as a refugee resettlement site, there must be jobs available and community support, including people who will donate time and money to help refugees adjust. Refugees contribute significantly to the economies of their new home states through entrepreneurship and consumerism. Their relocations to many Midwestern regions that have been suffering from a population decline has led to instances of revitalization. Moreover, refugees enrich the cultural makeup of the Midwest, making it a more diverse region.


There are thousands of stories refugees could tell - from life in their native country, to the difficult journey to safety, and their adventures in learning and adapting to a new way of life. Newcomers coming to the Midwest are an important part of the region’s growth and diversity. 


Indiana refugee stories

When Bibi Bahrami was 13 years old, the Soviet-Afghan War forced her to flee Afghanistan with her family.  In 1986, they found a new home in Muncie, Indiana, where Bibi went on to pursue education at Ball State University later in life while raising six children. Bibi has put down firm roots in the Midwest and now strives to help others. In 2002, Bibi founded AWAKEN , a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of women and children living in impoverished places in Afghanistan by providing them with educational programs, vocational opportunities, health care services, and sanitation assistance.

Image courtesy of Bibi Bahrami.

Mohamed Osman Mohamed was born in 1991 during Somalia’s civil war. Surrounded by violence and turmoil, he lost both his parents at a young age and lived in fear of being killed or recruited to become a solider for the opposers. Fleeing for their safety, his family crossed into Kenya where he sent the next 6 years at a refugee camp.

After years in Indiana working at a warehouse and learning English, Mohamed attended Indiana University-Bloomington where he sometimes worked several jobs while succeeding as a full-time student. Mohamed is now a United States citizen. He has earned a Bachelor’s degree in Public Financial Management with an Honors Distinction and works as an investor in Relations Analyst. 

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Baydaa and her husband lived in Falujar, Iraq before violence came to the city. Their lives were disrupted by a lack of food and water, dead bodies on the streets, and, eventually, an airstrike that destroyed their home. The couple fled to Jordan for resettlement and eventually came to Indianapolis in December 2012. Here they faced the struggle of starting over by learning a new language and culture while also longing for the family they left behind. This past year, Baydaa has started a new business in Indianapolis, Baydaa Beauty Salon & Spa. Both Baydaa and her husband are now United States citizens and dream of paving the path for their son to have opportunities and eventually obtain his own degree.

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