- War and persecution have devastating consequences, and the United States (U.S.) has a time-honored commitment to providing refuge to those most afflicted. Over the last four decades, the U.S. has provided sanctuary to more than 3.2 million refugees through its resettlement programs (U.S. Department of State, 2015a). Burma’s long-standing civil war has made it one of the major contributors to the U.S. resettled refugee population (South & Jolliffe, 2015; U.S. Department of State, 2015a; 2016d, n.d.-a). Because of the vast differences between U.S. and Burmese people and their lived experiences, Burmese refugees as a group are potentially more vulnerable to resettlement-related stressors.
The stressors of resettlement are especially amplified for refugee parents (e.g., Berry, 2005; Dumbrill, 2009; Renzaho & Vignievic, 2011). Refugee parents face challenges that go beyond the difficulties faced by non-refugee, native parents, in part because refugee parents are faced with increased familial conflict as a result of resettlement challenges (Atwell, Gifford, &McDonald-Wilmsen, 2009; Reed, Fazel, Jones, Panter-Brick, & Stein, 2012).
The purpose of this study is therefore to identify the needs of Portland’s Burmese refugee parents, both from the perspective of Burmese refugee parents and the perspectives of Portland-based social service providers. Using a life course perspective, the main research questions of this study are: (a) What are the most prevalent Burmese refugee parent needs, as perceived by Burmese refugee parents? (b) Do these perceived needs vary based on refugee participant age? (c) What are the needs of Burmese refugee parents according to U.S. social systems representatives?
This study uses primary and secondary data in the form of in-depth, one-on-one interviews gathered between 2015 and 2017. Burmese refugee parents (N = 32) and local social service providers (N= 10) shared stories and experiences reflecting challenges and needs faced by refugees living in the Portland metro area. Social service providers shared stories from a professional perspective. Each provider was a representative from one of five social domains namely, education, employment, health care, safety and security, and social networks. Overall, the findings of this study highlight the fact that Burmese refugee parents and social service providers view the needs of the Burmese refugee community differently. Most notable are differences between the relative importance of what refugees need in theory versus in practice. Findings also suggest there are differences in the needs of Burmese refugees based on age, such that indicate there is a need for programs designed with age in mind.
The information gathered from social service representatives in this study can be used by various organizations in the design of resettlement programs that work to effectively fulfill U.S. commitments to refugees.