How Refugees Go from Fleeing their Country to Living in Nashville (Jen Todd, The Tennessean)

Posted 08/14/2016

After leaving belongings behind to escape a home filled with fear and death, refugees face a series of health screenings, background checks and cultural orientation - before they know where they're going.

Catholic Charities of Tennessee, World Relief Nashville and Nashville International Center for Empowerment held a community meeting on Thursday [August 11, 2016] to inform and answer questions about refugees in the Nashville area. A refugee is someone who is forced to flee his or her country in order to escape war, persecution or natural disaster.

"There's a lot of bad information out there," said Holly Johnson, state refugee coordinator with Catholic Charities of Tennessee. "We want people to make their own decisions but make sure it's factual information."

This is the process for refugees to settle in Nashville:

1. Refugee applies for refugee status with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

2. If the UNHCR confirms the applicant fled for fear of persecution, the refugee begins a series of security and health checks.

3. The U.S. refugee process begins when multiple agencies, including Homeland Security, the FBI, the National Counterterrorism Center and the CIA, verify the person is who he or she says they are and poses no security risks.

4. The refugee's file is sent to Washington D.C., where nine resettlement agencies review the files to decide which of the nine is going to accept the refugee.

5. That agency determines where to send the refugee with parameters set by local resettlement agencies. In Nashville, it's World Relief, Catholic Charities and NICE. Parameters include case size, languages present here, communities that are established here, and medical needs of the case. The agency also evaluates where the refugee has family or friends in the U.S.

6. Once it is determined that the family will go to Nashville, the refugee is notified.

7. The refugee receives immunization and cultural orientation.

8. A flight is booked and the local affiliation is notified.

9. The local organization secures an apartment, furnishes the apartment, and stocks it with necessities, including food.

10. The refugee is greeted at the airport and taken to the apartment.

11. The refugee receives a home safety orientation, such as how to use the thermostat and stove.

12. Once the refugee is set up in Nashville, the local agencies provide a comprehensive health screening, continue immunizations, and help the refugee apply for benefits such as cash and medical assistance. The refugee can get money through Refugee Cash Assistance and Match Grant, which provides money for three to eight months. Medical needs are covered by Refugee Medical Assistance Program or TennCare.

13. Adults enroll in English classes and prepare for work. Children enroll in school.

14. Eventually, the refugee secures employment. World Relief's REACH program helps refugees with college degrees and professional backgrounds get their degrees evaluated and their licenses, and helps them connect with employers.

Nashville has 1,142 refugees, according to Catholic Charities. For more information about refugees in Tennessee, visit

Reach Jen Todd at 615-313-2760 or on Twitter @jentoddwrites.


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