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Settling Into a Brand-New Life

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Chua Yong arrived in the United States with her family on May 14, she said through an interpreter on Sunday, fleeing her home country of Myanmar to a country where she believes she will have, for the first time, full human rights.

For her, her husband and 7-year-old son, the transition to life in America will be made easier by a new Albuquerque branch of Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains. The program, whose focus is refugee resettlement, opened its doors for the first time in April, and now serves nine refugees, all from military-controlled Myanmar.

Within the next two weeks, director Tarrie Burnett said she expects the total number of refugees her program serves to double as several people from Iraq arrive in Albuquerque.

The program has funding to serve individual refugees for five years, though refugees tend to need more intensive assistance with housing, transportation and learning English in early months, Burnett explained at a Sunday open house to commemorate World Refugee Day.

At the moment, Burnett’s program is designated for refugees from Myanmar, Iraq and Cuba. The office, a repurposed house in Nob Hill, was chosen because of its proximity to Central Avenue and nearby University of New Mexico and Central New Mexico Community College.

Though Albuquerque’s refugee community has long been served by Catholic Charities, many refugees will benefit from both resettlement programs, Burnett said, adding that more help in any area can only be better for helping the world’s 14 million refugees find new homes.

Lutheran Family Service’s refugee services are 75 percent federally funded, via bodies such as the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Burnett said.


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Refugee services make up 40 to 50 percent of the $12 million Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains budget, said James Horan, vice president of refugee services for the Colorado-based organization.

The organization also offers other services, but spends most of its budget on foster care, Horan said.

The Albuquerque office is the organization’s first standing office outside Colorado, he said, and though it now offers only refugee services, “we hope that in future years, we’ll look a lot more like we do in Colorado.”

What the Albuquerque office really needs now is volunteers and donations of common household items to help refugees get on their feet in new apartments, Burnett said.

To help, call 933-7032 or email
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal