Randy ShumwayOne important component of Idaho’s demographic makeup is its refugee population. Idaho became a haven for refugees as early as 1975 when Gov. John Evans established the Indochinese Refugee Assistance Program.

The program initially focused on refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos but has since expanded to provide services and assistance to refugees from other areas as well, including eastern Europe and Africa.

Between 2004 and 2014, 38 percent of Idaho’s refugees came from Southeast Asia, 31 percent came from Africa, 19 percent came from Europe and Central Asia, 11 percent came from East Asia, and 1 percent came from Latin America and the Caribbean.

Refugees often come from war-torn countries and refugee camps that don’t have any modern conveniences. Many times, they leave their homelands with nothing more than the clothes they’re wearing.

To resettle refugees in either Boise or Twin Falls, the two cities with refugee resettlement programs, the Idaho Office for Refugees works with four resettlement agencies: the Agency for New Americans, World Relief, International Rescue Committee, and CSI Refugee Programs-Twin Falls. The resettlement agencies help refugees fully integrate into the community through education, work, and cultural understanding.

While refugees make up a very small portion of the state-wide demographics, their impact on our communities is significant. They come with rich life perspectives, work hard to support their families, and bring diversity to Idaho.