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Refugees in West Michigan: A growing population looking for help

Posted at 11:32 PM, Apr 13, 2016

WEST MICHIGAN – Former refugee Krishna Bista is helping hundreds of fellow Napoli refugees establish a new life after being forced from their homes in their native country.

“At age 5, in 1990, I left Bhutan with my uncle’s family and grandma,” said Bista. “We were part of a mass exodus of culturally Nepali Bhutanese expelled by the King of Bhutan who wanted to create an ethnically pure society."

For the next 18 years, Bista lived in a refugee camp in southeastern Nepal, losing hope along the way.

“I remember thinking once that God had created refugees because He took delight in their misery,” said Bista.

Bista came to Grand Rapids as a refugee with his family in 2008, finding his struggle had just begun.

“The biggest problem is the language, language is the big issue,” said Bista.

Bista now fights for his family and other refugees struggling to adjust to life in West Michigan as a Napoli navigator, helping refugees like himself find jobs, schooling, and resources.  He works side-by-side with the director for the West Michigan Refugee Education and Cultural Center, Susan Kragt.

“Refugees are forced migrants as opposed to someone who’s a willing immigrant, they tend to come at least prepared for that movement: where a refugee was forced from their home,” said Kragt.

Many are finding the transition extremely difficult.

“Many have a wonderful life, some have physical problems and mental issues,” said Bista. “We have a lot of suicide cases in the community. I think it’s the highest suicide rate in the U.S., it’s the Bhutanese refugees we have.”

Both Kragt and Krishna have made it their life’s work helping the ever-increasing population of refugees find new life in West Michigan. Especially after the refugee ceiling was raised by President Obama amid the Syrian Refugee Crisis.

“Over the past several years it’s kept steady at about 600 refugees coming into West Michigan a year, this year the resettlement year goes from October to October,” said Kragt. “By this October we’re going to have seen 850.”

The West Michigan Refugee Education and Cultural Center acts as a guide in the refugee community. Volunteers are doing everything they can to help refugee families.

“It really takes everyone being welcoming and supportive,” Kragt said. “Refugees are your neighbors, they go to your businesses, they attend your schools, and they’re a part of your local government.”

The WMRECC is located in Kentwood and they’re always looking for volunteers to help financially or with their time. Any donations are welcome by clicking here.

The World Affairs Council of Western Michigan and the Kent District Library are giving West Michigan an inside look into the life of a refugee throughout the months of April and May, hosting, ‘Comin to America: Creating Community with Newcomers.’ It’s a free series that aims to bring open dialogue and fact-based discussion on the topic of refugees in our communities.  There will be three events, the first starting Monday, April 18 with two more series April 25th and May 2nd.