Refugee 101


Who are refugees?

25.4 million people globally


“Refugee” Defined

Refugees are people fleeing conflict or persecution. They are defined and protected in international law, and must not be expelled or returned to situations where their life and freedom are at risk. The first step for most refugees is to register with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the country to which s/he has fled. UNHCR has the mandate to provide international protection to refugees. UNHCR determines if an individual qualifies as a refugee and, if so, works toward the best possible durable solution for each refugee: safe return to the home country, local integration, or third-country resettlement.

For a refugee to be resettled in the United States UNHCR will refer refugee applicants to the United States Resettlement Support Center (RSC). Upon referral, officers from the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services review all the information that the RSC has collected and also conduct an in-person interview with each refugee applicant before deciding whether to approve him or her for resettlement in the United States.


Refugees in West Michigan

Planting roots in a new home


The History of Resettlement

West Michigan has become the new home to resettled refugees from over 25 birth-countries, including: Burma, Bhutan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, Somalia, Rwanda, Eritrea, Bosnia, Vietnam, and more. These populations encompass 60+ ethnicities, 30+ languages, dozens of religious beliefs, and many cultural practices and traditions. The incredible diversity brought to West Michigan helps make it a beautiful place.

Primarily, refugees have been resettled in the West Michigan cities of: Grand Rapids, Holland/Zeeland, Muskegon, Traverse City, and Battle Creek/Kalamazoo. Grand Rapids has also become home to many “secondary migrants” (refugees who have moved within the United States post-resettlement).