Exodus Refugee is a non-profit organization that works with the federal government to help resettle refugees in the Indianapolis area. Exodus provides a full array of services to our newest Hoosiers. We spoke with Executive Director Cole Varga about the important role his organization plays in our community.
What is a refugee and what does your organization do to help refugees resettling in Indianapolis?
Refugees are people fleeing political or religious persecution or ethnic discrimination. It’s a very specific status. All of the refugees that come to the US have UN refugee status and are also vetted through the US system, so it’s a double certification kind of thing. It’s actually the hardest way to get into the US, through the refugee program.
After the refugee goes through the security screening process, they are invited to the US. For those that find out they’ll be living in Indianapolis, Exodus meets them at the airport. We have an apartment set up for them, provide food for a couple of weeks while they get on food stamps, help them get to a doctor, get a social security card, find their first job and get their kids into school.
Can you tell me a bit about the history of your organization?
We were founded in 1981 around the time of the Mariel boatlift of Cuban refugees. There are about 200 cities and 300 agencies like Exodus across the US that do similar work.
How many immigrants and refugees has your organization served?
Thousands. In the past ten years alone, we’ve served about 7,000 people. In our 36-year history we’ve served refugees from more than 33 countries.
What challenges do refugees face in the USA?
A lot of the challenges have to do with language access and transportation. Indianapolis is a very affordable city, which is great, and there are also a lot of available jobs right now. But getting to the jobs is a different story. A lot of the jobs are on the periphery of the city, so getting out there is pretty difficult.
We’ve also got people speaking dozens of different languages so trying to navigate interpretation and translation systems is difficult, too. And the cultural adjustment is greater for some than others. But the resilience that refugees have is unmatched. The things they’ve been through already in their lives and the fact that they’ve made it this far- they’re capable of amazing things. When you start to see them blossom in their new lives here it’s really amazing.
How can the community help your organization?
With so much skepticism of the program by our national leaders, advocacy for refugees and for refugee resettlement is really a top priority. That means understanding where refugees come from and why they’re coming. Remember, they aren’t immigrating here because they want to but because they are literally fleeing for their lives. So, advocacy and letting your elected officials know that you support refugee resettlement [is helpful.]
Why is what you do so important?
Refugee resettlement really demonstrates that best of who we are as Americans. We are taking in people from all over the world who have fled persecution, injustice and war and only want to start a new life for themselves and their children. To help others in their time of need is something we’ve historically done as Americans and historically done as Hoosiers. And it’s something that must continue in the face of this massive global refugee crisis of nearly 23 million people.
To learn more about Exodus Refugee visit their website at www.exodusrefugee.org/.