First Things First: What do refugees really need?

If you were tasked with the responsibility of welcoming a new refugee family to Minnesota, would you know where to start? Setting up a household and introducing a family to their new home is a large and complex process, so we thought it might be interesting to give you a peek into some of the truly first needs of a new family.


As soon as we find out about a new family that will be arriving, we start searching for an affordable apartment, preferably close to other members of the family’s community. We often have about 2 weeks to locate, secure, and furnish an apartment. That means things like preparing leases, getting keys, and completing initial inspections. The affordable housing market in the Twin Cities is tight, so building relationships with landlord partners is key.


We don’t rent furnished apartments and most new families arrive with just a few bags of personal belongings. We provide living room and dining seating for everyone in the family, as well as beds, tables, dressers, and the like. Bridging Inc. is a frequent partner of ours, which means that case managers or volunteers visit the warehouse to pick out furniture and household items for the family. We also need to provide all the basic toiletries, linens, dishes, and cooking implements for each family. That means taking into account all sorts of details, right down to the family make-up, cultural background, and deciding how to lay out furniture and decorations.


We stock the kitchen of each new arrival with the basics and culturally-appropriate staples. We also include milk, juice, fresh produce, and meat. In addition, we provide for a hot, culturally-appropriate meal on the day of a new family’s arrival, knowing they may not have eaten much during many hours of travel.

A warm welcome:

We greet each newly arriving refugee at the airport with a personal welcome. If it’s cold out, we bring coats, and we provide car seats for young children. We also give the family a ride home to their first apartment and provide a basic orientation before we give them the chance to rest after many hours of travel.


Refugees arrive without identification documents that are widely recognized in the US. Their I-94 card shows that they have permission to live and work in the United States, but it’s not a photo id and is far too valuable to carry around. We help refugees start the process of obtaining important documents like a social security card and state ID card (like a driver’s license) right away.


Since the ability to communicate and be reached is key, most refugees secure a cell phone fairly quickly. None of our families have computers or internet access right away, and land line phones can take a bit of time to get connected, so cell phones are the most reliable way for them to have a way to contact friends, family, case workers, health care providers, and other resources.

That’s really just the tip of the iceberg, but hopefully it’s an interesting peek into the work of our team’s initial work with new refugee arrivals. We couldn’t welcome families without the help of generous donors and volunteers who help us make sure that new arrivals have what they need and feel that Minnesota will be a safe and welcoming place to rebuild their lives. Thank you!


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